Consuela (my Tejana maid) reminded me yesterday morning that the P***** of W**** was visiting Scotland, travelling in his own train which runs on biodiesel. It was at that moment that there was a polite cough and a tentative tap at the teepee-flap, and a familiar figure peered in. Now, I’m not saying that it was the P***** of W****, but just that the looks, mannerisms, and speech were all well-known to me. I am sure how other people remember a certain person’s movements of the day is entirely different, and who would I be to gainsay them? I am sure that a certain person might, if he wished to deviate from his planned programme, have at his disposal one or more professional mimic, look-alike, body-double and so on – in the interests of security in troubled times, und so weiter.
Anyhow, this familiar person who presented himself at the teepee-flap and asked if he could step in for a while was clad in a pair of Birkenstocks, a faded kilt of Hunting Stewart, and a kagoule. He was carrying an old Gilwell Scout stick with a ferrule of tup’s horn and an equally old haversack. So if I say I knew him, and if I tap my nose and wink my eye you shall draw whatever conclusion you like.
I invited him to dine, but he declined, and instead brought out a Tupperware box from his haversack and offered me some cheese made from organic yak’s milk and a sesame-seeded oatcake. I declined.
“Please, do have some,” he said. “They’re ‘by appointment’.”
“You are kind,” I replied. “But no thank you.”
“Oh well,” he sighed, and munched on some himself, as we both stared out at the neighbouring hilltops, grey in the drizzle. There was silence for a long time, and then he spoke again.
“One is so lonely.”
“Sir,” I said. “You have a loving wife who is devoted to you.”
“Yes one knows,” he replied, a wan smile playing round his lips.” And were it not for her, one thinks one would have gone absolutely doolally and topped oneself long before now. Do you know what one has really wanted all these years? A job. A proper job. Something to go to from nine until five, and to come home from. Something to have as a reference point in one's life, so that one could have said I am – what? – a foundryman, or I am a railwayman. Of course now it would have to be I am a retired foundryman or railwayman or whatever, because one is too old.”
I touched his arm gently and told him not to grieve. I told him that all employment was slavery, and that all jobs in a capitalist society involved being beholden to a master who’s come here and go there were law, and that he was well out of it all. Although he nodded and thanked me for my words, I could see that he was still sad.
We continued in silence for a long time. As the light faded and I looked across at his face, I am sure that I saw a tear run down from his eye, across his cheek, and fall with a plash upon his kagoule.
When it was at last time to leave he shook hands with me and with Consuela, and set off down the hill without a further word. We watched his figure, hunched against the drizzle, until it was out of sight.
Consuela and I were melancholy for the rest of the evening. Not even an energetic Argentine tango could cure us of that.