This is such a lovely city. I’ve never been here before and I’ve always wanted to come: important history, great architecture, plenty of museums and galleries; and very vibrant.
I wander around with my camera and exchange the odd pleasantries: the people aren’t overly cordial, but neither are they hostile and they do smile – and respond, when I speak to them.
It’s going to be difficult crossing this main road – drivers are racing around as though they’re taking part in Formula One. I will be dicing with death that’s for sure……
…… Phew, that was painful, but I’m across.
‘It’s not easy is it?’ I say to people on the sidewalk who are waiting to cross the other way, but they don’t reply – shuffling slightly sideways as though I have a bad smell about me. I hope they spend ages getting across now, it will serve them right for being so uncivil.
I walk along taking in the sights. ‘After you.’ I say, as I make way for a lady to pass. She’s pushing a pram and has a toddler in tow, but she ploughs on regardless, and doesn’t say thanks. Very rude.
Another pedestrian is heading straight for me and I have to jump out of the way before she crashes into me. How ungracious – she never even looks at me: it’s as though she intends to walk straight through me.
I encounter many more people who are discourteous, impolite and insensitive, and I am suddenly feeling quite vulnerable and lonely despite being in such a lively and spirited place. Why is everyone being so ignorant all of a sudden? Why is no one paying me any attention?
It’s not ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, it’s a city of two tales. In the morning everyone was fairly affable, and since I crossed the race track – nothing. It’s like I’ve entered some parallel universe.
I keep clicking away with my camera so I’ll have lots of great souvenirs of my time here, even though it will only be the sights that are memorable, not the people – they are now treating me as though I don’t exist.
I’m ready for a drink now – and maybe a snack, so I head to the first café I see. It looks welcoming, has a nice façade, and I enter. I greet the waitress, but she doesn’t reply. No one comes to seat me so I take an empty booth. The waitress seems busy and doesn’t approach.
What’s this? All these available tables and someone comes and sits right beside me! I’ll politely suggest he might be more comfortable taking the seat opposite, to give us both space, but I don’t want to stop him from joining me entirely or I’ll be guilty of inhospitality.
Before I have the chance to say anything he looks to his right – straight at me, and hurriedly vacates his seat to choose another one across the room. I’m starting to wonder if I do have a bad smell about me. I see the man talking to the waitress – they both glance in my direction, and I hear the word ‘strange’ mentioned. I’ve never been called strange before, especially without opening my mouth.
I’m expecting the waitress to come and take my order now that she’s seen me, but she doesn’t. She serves several other people who come in after me. She won’t win employee of the month. I’ll go somewhere else if that’s how she wants to behave. I pick up my camera and leave.
I head up the hill to the church – I can just see the spire over the rooftop. The stained glass is twinkling in the sunlight as I approach and it looks very impressive.
There appears to be quite a few people in the churchyard – maybe there’s been a service. They all greet me as I enter the gate. At last – friendliness without restraint. The vicar is on the doorstep – his attire looks out of keeping with today’s clergy – old-fashioned, and he waves at me. I go over to have a chat.
‘Good afternoon,’ he says, smiling.
‘Hello, it’s nice to meet some amiable people in the town, everyone has been quite miserable so far.’ I reply.
‘Oh well, we’re very accommodating here. If you decide to stay I’ll introduce you to everyone.’
‘That’s very kind but I won’t be staying long enough to warrant introductions.’
‘I thought as much, you don’t appear to be in need of long term companionship here. I don’t think you’re ready to stay, but feel free to look around.’
‘I will, thank you.’ What an odd thing to say.
I meander through the graveyard and read some of the headstones – it’s so interesting to know about the people who are buried here – young and old. Men taken by war. Children by tuberculosis. Traffic accidents and accidents of nature. So many stories to tell.
I head back down the hill. There’s a crowd of people and an ambulance. It doesn’t look good – someone is laid out at the side of the road. The treacherous traffic has claimed a victim no doubt.
I stand at the back of the crowd and gawp, although I cannot see the patient through the mass of bodies – even standing on tip toe, I can only see the paramedics as they work on the body. The casualty is stretchered into the ambulance and it is driven off at speed, blue light flashing and siren sounding.
‘He’s back with us,’ I hear a voice say.
‘Mr Smith, Mr Smith.’ Another voice. Someone is addressing me. I open my eyes and there is a sea of faces peering down at me.
‘How do you know my name?’ I ask.
‘The identification in your wallet. You were involved in an accident and you’re in hospital.’
‘I can’t remember a thing.’
‘Don’t worry, you’re in good hands now.’
They are all attentive, and very friendly – I was probably a little premature in judging everyone earlier.
‘Did I have my camera with me?’ I ask the nurse.
‘Yes, I’ll get it for you,’ she replies. She reaches into the cupboard and hands it to me.
I look at the pictures I took around town to give me something to focus on, other than the pain in my body. There are some nice shots and then suddenly…… nothing. I check the camera several times. All the photos I took after crossing that death-trap road are blank. Now that is strange!