May 28, 2022 5 Comments

Evening runs aren’t really my thing these days.  Almost always I go out early in the morning.  But today’s different.  For one thing, this is my first run for several weeks, since aggravating an old Achilles tendon injury.  So my route, as well as my timing, is unorthodox: short and slow; no cliffs, no hills.

Running in the evening, I remember, has its advantages.  There seems to be more oxygen in the air.  Running is less of an effort than at eight o’clock in the morning.  Or maybe it’s just that the body has had all day to warm up.

The streets are almost empty of cars and pedestrians.  I lope along, self-absorbed, trying not to put too much pressure on the Achilles, past the fox picture (almost hidden in flowers and leaves), Picket Mead green and the primary school.  The only thing I take in is a poster outside the house of the Christadelphians.  It advertises the next church discussion, and reads ‘The certainty of resurrection’.  I try to imagine what this might mean.  One of Stanley Spencer’s paintings comes to mind: the one with healthy-looking corpses, on the day of judgement, hauling themselves out of churchyard tombs.  I wonder, if it’s true that resurrection is certain, whether endless resurrected life would be something I should welcome or not.   Would I be allowed to bring the memory of my previous life with me?  Or would resurrection be a reboot, my mind a tabula rasa?

Stanley Spencer, The resurrection, Cookham (1924-7) (Tate Gallery)

As I’m turning to run back home, a woman dressed all in dark green, holding a mobile to her ear and obviously agitated, stops me.  She asks whether I’ve seen a solitary old man on my travels – an old man who might have struck me as confused.  I can’t help her.  Even in my solipsistic state I think I’d have noticed such a person, but I’m sure I haven’t.  I run off, and the woman continues her search.

I leave the main road and jog down Mary Twill Lane to the end, where the home for blind people used to be.  It’s now just a memory, erased, and replaced by a gated hamlet of brick mansions, labelled ‘Mary Twill Grove’.  In the walled path at the end I pass an old man in brief conversation with a younger man leading a dog.  After I’d run past them, something makes me stop, and I ask the man with the dog, who’s now walking behind me, whether the old man seemed to him to be confused.  He agrees.  I go back up the lane and find the old man, now walking, head bent, very slowly along the lane.  He’s wearing old trousers and an old shirt, and on his feet are black slippers.  He has more hair than I have, swept back from a face that’s full and friendly.  I place him somewhere in his late seventies or early eighties. 

I asked the man if he’s lost.  He doesn’t reply directly, but talks, more than once, about Cimla.  Maybe he’s walking home?  Cimla’s a suburb of Neath, about fifteen miles away: at the pace he’s able to walk, I calculate, it will take him several days.  Perhaps he’d once lived there, but now lives in a nursing home near here, from which he started his long walk?  If so, I need to guide him back to his present home.  But where, I wonder, is it?

What if we walk together, I suggest, back up Mary Twill Lane?  Can he remember walking down it?  He thinks he can.  I ask whether he lives in a nursing home.  He doesn’t respond, as if he’s not sure what a nursing home is.  At the top of the Lane are three roads.  As it happens, each one leads, sooner or later, to a different nursing home.  Which road had he came along earlier?   He doesn’t know.  The best thing we can do is to make for the home that’s nearest, and the easiest to reach.  Even if he doesn’t live there, the people there may be able to find out where he belongs.

We shuffle along the pavement together, along the main road.  Words come from him, but they’re like the soundtrack of a strange dream: I can’t seem to fit them together to make meaning.  I keep reassuring him that we’ll find his home soon, and he’s happy to follow me.  I look out for people dressed in dark green, but there’s no one around, just the odd car (with no green drivers).  Eventually the nursing home comes into sight.  Just as we’re preparing to cross the road towards it, at the awkward junction, two women dressed in dark green come round the corner.  They fling their arms joyfully in the air, then around the old man’s neck, and call out his name.  He recognises them and smiles, but seems surprised at their extravagant behaviour.  One of the two is the women is the one who stopped me earlier.  I explain to her what happened.  The two of them thank me, I say farewell to the old man and resume my run.

I retrace my steps, back along the main road and then down Mary Twill Lane.  Running more slowly now, I rehearse a question I’ve asked myself many times before: who was Mary Twill?  No one seems to know any longer.  She’s vanished from history, written and oral.  I imagine her, restored from the dead, wandering up and down her Lane.  From time to time she stops passers-by and asking them whether they remember her.  No one does.

Comments (5)

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  1. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    Is it Mary- at – well? Someone told me there was a holy spring.

  2. sioned says:

    Still an adherent of Red Dap. Good x

    • Andrew Green says:

      Yes, Red Dap still lives, though it only has one member these days, and no one knows where the T-shirts are.

  3. Gillian Lewis says:

    Loved this Andrew! A happy ending too. Angels wearing green….

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