Guilt

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October 3, 2016 by The Citron Review

by Patricia Newbery


I still hear them, the thumps, slaps and grunts that preceded his exit from his brief walk-on part. And I picture him more vividly than anyone I knew in those days.

Paris. A litany of seven-storey streets, a few tired vistas and, at that time, an unavoidability of dog shit that permeated the city with its stench when it rained.

It was raining that Sunday evening after yet another day of blotting-paper skies. I dashed the short distance from cinema to metro, reaching the platform just as doors slammed shut. The delay was welcome – I’d have walked home had I come prepared.

I took up waiting position about a third of the way along the platform, looking in the direction from which the train would come, as one does.

It would be wrong to say he staggered – that surely suggests a leaning forward, some sort of momentum, whereas there seemed almost to be a force holding him back as he made his disjointed way along the platform. Shabby and bandy-legged, he dragged his toes, arms held away from his body as if manipulated by an inept puppeteer.

His face came into gradual focus: expressionless, discoloured, mouth slightly open, something very wrong with his right eye.

I put a few francs into his hand and followed his progress along the platform.

There were more people now. Some rummaged for coins, some turned away. Most ignored him.

Three men passed me, scruffy and unkempt but with vigorous step. When they caught up with him, one poked him in the chest, said a few words, slapped and punched him, went through his pockets.

They left in the direction of the correspondances.

He’d almost collapsed but no one went to help him, just as no one had tried to intervene a moment before. Including me.

Slowly, as the breeze from the tunnel became a wind, he began to right himself, looking even more like a puppet as his hands danced in the air groping for balance. He was upright, swaying slightly, as I turned to board the train.

As it pulled out of the station, I caught a final glimpse of his silhouette transfigured in the dazzling light of the exit tunnel.

 

Patricia Newbery’s work has been published or is forthcoming in various print and on-line journals in Europe and North America. She’s a translator by profession and lives in Cairo.

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