Thursday, June 11, 2009

The nighttime people

Maybe it was the fact that Anna and I had met at night that made the nighttime so magic for us. Perhaps it was because the nighttime could be, and so often was, so surprising. The multitudes of sights and sounds of the daytime got down to manageable size at night. Things and sounds became separate at night; they didn't get muddled up with everything else; and things happened in the dark that couldn't possibly happen in the daylight. It's not impossible to have a conversation with a lamppost at night; do the same thing in the daylight and they would take you off in a padded van.

"The sun is nice," said Anna, "but it lights things up so much that you can't see very far."

I agreed that sometimes the sun was so dazzling that on occasions one was quite blinded. That wasn't what she meant.

"Your soul don't go very far in the daylight 'cos it stops where you can see."

"That supposed to make sense?" I asked.

"The nighttime is better. It stretches your soul right out to the stars. And that," she pronounced, "is a very long way. In the nighttime you don't have to stop going out. It's like your ears. In the daytime it's so noisy you can't hear. In the nighttime you can. The nighttime stretches you."

I wasn't going to argue with that one. The nighttime was the time for stretching, and we often stretched ourselves.

Mum never batted an eyelid over our nighttime rambles. Mum knew that stretching was important, and Mum had been a past master at the art of stretching. Given half a chance she'd have been with us. "Have a nice time," she'd say, "and don't get too lost." She didn't mean in the streets of London Town, she meant up among the stars. You didn't have to explain to Mum about getting lost among the stars. Mum reckoned that getting lost and finding your way were just different sides of the same coin. You couldn't have the one without the other.

Mum was something of a genius, certainly she was a mum in a million. "Why don't you go out," she used to say, "it's raining hard," or, "it's blowing a gale." Whatever mischief the weather was up to, Mum suggested that we go out, just for fun, just to see what it was all about. Outside in the streets windows were being flung open and other mums would be yelling for their various Freds and Berts, Bettys and Sadies to "come in outa that rain! You'll be soaked to the skin." Come storm or tempest, rain or snow, daytime or nighttime, we'd always be encouraged to go out and try it. Mum never protected us from God's works, as she called them. Mum protected us, for a while, from ourselves. She'd light up the big copper so that there was a good supply of hot water when we got home. She did it for years, until she figured we'd got enough sense to do it for ourselves; then she stopped.

Staying out all night was, for Mum, something not to be missed.

Most nighttime people were pretty wonderful people. Most nighttime people liked to talk. Those who thought we were mad or just plain stupid were in the minority. True, there were those who didn't hesitate to tell me exactly what they thought of me. "Fancy taking a child out at a time like this; you must be stark raving mad." "You ought to be home and in bed, you wouldn't get up to any mischief there." The assumption on the part of these people was that the nighttime was for mischief, for foul deeds, for getting up to no good. All God-fearing people went to their beds at night. The night was for the "nasties," for "beasties that go bump in the night," and for Old Nick. Perhaps we were lucky; all the times that we roamed the streets at night we never bumped into a nasty or a beasty, or even Old Nick, only nice people. At first we tried to explain that we wanted to be out, that we liked it, but this only confirmed some people in their suspicion that we were mad, so we gave up any attempt at an explanation and simply went out.

Parting from a little group of nighttime people on one of our walks, Anna remarked, "It's funny, Fynn, ain't it? All the nighttime people have got names."

It was true too. You'd bump into a group of nighttime people round a fire and before you could say "How's your father?" you'd be introduced all round. "That's Lil, she's a bit funny in the 'ead, but she's all right." "That's Old Flintlighter." His real name was Robert Somebody-or-other but everybody called him "Old Flintlighter."

Perhaps it was because the nighttime people had more time to talk to each other, or perhaps they were not overinvolved in "making it good." Whatever the reason, the nighttime people talked and talked and shared and shared.

From Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn. New York: Ballantine Books, 1974. Pages 145-147