Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Lost Weekend

Whatever the quality or the quantity of our excess, however late the hour, however dry the well, eventually we awake to stumble once more into the daylight. Unless, that is, we are absolved as we sleep from the onerous responsibility of Life’s employ, and granted the merciful release of slipping away to mingle with the dust of our ancestors in the land of eternal oblivion. Or condemned by cruel Fate to live on behind the impenetrable veil, alone in the uncharted darkness of a persistent vegetative state, being possessed of all the humanity of a particularly intransigent cauliflower, and for all subjective purposes quite dead.

But I was alive, and I could assert the proposition, albeit silently, with a fair degree of confidence, because in my state of suspension I was becoming gradually aware of a slow drifting sensation in the direction of consciousness, though as the lids of my eyes hesitated to wrench themselves through the painful process of separation, I was as yet unsure of the exact nature of my geographical coordinates, the latitude and the longitude of my precise whereabouts thus far having neglected to present themselves for scrutiny.

Before commanding my reluctant eyes to conduct a visual reconnaissance of the surrounding terrain, or despatching my blind, tentative fingers to reach out and search for snippets of tactile intelligence, I addressed myself to the task of trying to remember the events of the previous day or two, and through the exercise of retracing my steps endeavouring to ascertain my current position. It was hopeless. I couldn't remember a thing. I gave up the struggle and instead allowed my thoughts to wander liberally in a haphazard, free-form sort of way to see where they might lead unprompted, hoping above all else that it would be directly back to the world of insentience, and that I would wake again at some unspecified future date free of the trepidation which gnawed away at my innards.

There came next a vague sensation, like a premonition of the past, a grain of something unforgotten, a stray, unwanted seed of ghastly remembrance germinating and sprouting and spreading its pale tentacles of horror and remorse slowly and unstoppably through the fog of helplessness.

And then gradually I came to in a pool of warm liquid and, if my recovering senses were not mistaken, beneath me lay the familiar rough surface of a railway station platform. My attempts to reveal an explanation of how I came to be there, or where indeed I was, led to the disconcerting discovery that I was also quite ignorant of certain fundamental items of personal information, those simple though important snippets of acquired knowledge generally considered essential to the smooth running of a normal life. Who I was, for example.

Someone was asking me a question, an easy one, possessing as it did only one possible answer, although I harboured the suspicion that it had been asked several times with ever-ascending volume before I became aware that it was indeed I to whom it was addressed. The answer was ‘Yes, I can hear you’, which morsel of intelligence I communicated to my as yet unseen interrogator by means of a vaguely dismissive one-handed arc described randomly through the air accompanied by a low grunt of irritation which, while not obviously one of actual affirmation, or even understanding, by its very existence denoted sufficient confirmation of at least some level of consciousness. The next question, however, had me stumped.

“Can you tell me your name?” said a male voice imbued with neither friendliness nor hostility, but rather with the confident detachment and bored neutrality of a professional and habitual rouser of public sleepers, the voice, almost certainly, of some species of uniformed busybody. A police constable, perhaps. Or, God forbid, an ambulanceman.

Baffled, I struggled to concentrate and find the words, surprised to find myself struck inexplicably inarticulate, and yet aware with a detached, icy clarity that I really ought to know this one.

“Can I tell you . . . ?” And then the correct answer came to me as though in a flash of inspiration.

“No, I can't.” I laughed quietly with a private, smug triumph and became aware of what felt like the steel toe of a size twelve prodding my lower spine quite firmly and the same voice exhorted me to come on now and sit up. Realising that further sleep was for the present no longer a viable proposition, I twisted round and hauled myself with considerable effort to a half-sitting position, whereupon my head began to spin most uncomfortably and I was gripped by a sudden and overwhelming feeling of nausea. I twisted a little further and vomited suddenly and quite prodigiously over the shiniest pair of black boots I’ve ever seen, after which I felt somewhat recovered, though not wholly inclined as yet to receive visitors.

I watched with a kind of numb fascination as the brown viscous mixture of regurgitated kebab, chips and Wandle's Most Peculiar flowed slowly down the leather uppers, seeping in at the tongue and lace holes and finding within, I imagined, the comforting absorption of official black sock. I tried to estimate how long it must have taken someone to get such a reflective sheen on that surface, but I was at a loss even to conceive of any method by which such a result might be attempted, let alone accomplished, or why anyone might feel the inclination to aspire to such an unnatural level of shininess in the first place. Curious to see what secrets of the soul the face of such an obsessive polisher might reveal, I glanced up.

It was, unsurprisingly, a policeman’s face of a deep red hue, curiously phosphorescent, and he was quivering from head to toe with that impotent rage born of humiliation and frustration, and was restrained, I felt certain, from kicking me to death there and then only by the presence of a couple of shadowy figures lurking silently nearby.

To conceal my amusement I turned away and laid back down, shaking with silent mirth, and became suddenly aware of the familiar smell of Bert Klaxon’s pipe accompanied by the unmistakable sound of Stan Tablets, as always enviably uninhibited by any sense of self-consciousness, bellowing with malicious laughter which boomed gloriously like a song of pure joy, an affirmation of Life itself, upon the cold, crisp Monday morning air, and in an instant everything became clear.

“Come on now, son,” said Bert in a measured tone agreeable to reason and sound judgement. “Better get a move on. You’re on duty in ten minutes.”