Who Do You Want to Be? | Edward Mc Whinney
Sometimes I feel very close to certain street tramps I come across on my walks. On the north end of Plaza Catalunya, across the road outside the entrance to the bank, you will find a Negro vagrant of not very advanced years. He lies stretched out on his cardboard bed with a transistor radio playing beside his head, a few small coins in his begging bowl, and folks, let me tell you that as he reclines there prostrate, he might well be composing his magnum opus, oblivious to the noon-day wonderflow, eyes wide open staring into the sky as though reading a revelation in God’s blue heaven. Whenever I pass this man, for he is in the same place everyday, I feel some visceral emotion stirring deep within. It is an elemental craving. It is a desire to be anybody but myself, as if indeed I want to be the Negro vagabond, of not very advanced years, prostrate on a busy footpath outside a bank, the busiest thoroughfare in the city, listening to any radio station and staring at his zenith, the rolling whites of his eyes in orbit.
Maybe if I didn’t get hungry or tired or run into annoying people all the time, I’d be able to explain myself better, with the bells ringing out every quarter of an hour I throw my head back in the dog day afternoon and try to figure out who I want to be, not surely a mendicant on a city street, that’s romanticising an undesirable situation with foolhardy naivety. Why not be content as you are, I ask myself, an ordinary man among the ordinary people, anonymous in the city? Then I get to thinking about the Comte D’Urgell in his mountain mansion, taking a day off from hunting and fishing, behind the half-closed shutters, having made love to the Contessa Elisenda, gazing impassively out at the unblemished blue sky over his vines, as if the world didn’t really exist, as if the world had no meaning at all.
One day I got a glimpse of my neighbour across the way. He was sitting in a wheelchair. He had a face of wax and a stone-cold expression. I saw him only for a second when the curtains blew open. As soon as they fell back into place I began to imagine that here was a man who never went out, who asked for sustenance, say fruit or rice, three times a day and spent the rest of the time reading ancient philosophy and sleeping. When he woke he’d converse in a low, melancholy monotone. He had a cool, otherworldly voice which I in fact heard from time to time when there was a lull in the general background noises of the day. Maybe he was talking to his housekeeper or to his mother who can’t really respond all that well because she’s dead, though he will speak to her for hours on end and now at last is used to her silence. He hasn’t seen the street for seven years, since she died that is, the housekeeper hasn’t time to roll him out, she has six kids and two husbands, and there is no-one else. So, he has long since become accustomed to staying in and decided, a long time ago, that he wouldn’t want to go out anyway, even if some one from the old days were to call around and say, Axel old friend, I’ll take you out to see the street. I’ll take you out to the countryside and the sea. I’ll take you up into the mountains. No, he’d say, in that, ghostly melancholy tone, I’ve had enough of that helter-skelter shit, that feeling of having been thrown from a tall building and going into eternal freefall without a chute, socialising you call it, womanising, gambling, gossiping and drinking. No more of that for now in his dark room he has become firmly acquainted with peace. The long, beautiful spells of silence. The non-necessity of having to forage around for excitement with time at last to compose the piano concerto that has been simmering in his head for all those years.