( This story is in response to the meeting exercise for 10th April )
What do we Want?
The chant was boring but J didn’t say so because it seemed to be popular; at least you didn’t have to think about it. First line “What do we want!” a demand not a question and shouted as enthusiastically as a troop of near geriatrics could manage given the heat, the noise of the traffic, and a need to concentrate on walking. J was with the protest but not that excited about it carrying a placard that was thrust into his hand by one of the organisers.
She was there, bright eyed and as trim as he always remembered her. They had recognised each other straight way laughing, surprised, she gasping when she saw him and he looking at her for a moment unable to speak, and then, unleashed a torrent of words. The meaningless gabble of old lovers meeting up, apologetic, happy perhaps to meet again, relief at knowing the other is still willing to be friendly. He wanting to talk to her and she nodding agreement but the organizing groups broke in on the moment and stole it, yet here they were marching, walking really in a more or less disciplined, genteel manner. J looked at the woman he had once loved, or maybe still did; he had never forgotten her; not forgotten the passion, the lissome body that writhed under and with his, the warm touching, kisses so intimate that he felt as if he were giving up all he had, all the emotion until, like many a passionate affair it came to a sudden and confusing end and they had parted.
The second line, bellowed in a ragged cadence; “Fair pensions for all!”, weak, it was, not a demand but a suggestion. The only thing we have going for us, J thought, is the petition and the numbers on the day; enough to warrant a television and print media presence, hopefully questions raised in the House. Imagine the headlines. “Pensioners Petition Parliament” “Pensioners Protest Poor Payouts” and other such alliterative phrases.
But for J, there was Sandy, the girl he had kept in his memory all his life. She was walking just ahead of him chanting and he wondered what had happened to her, what she had done. Did she have children? What had she done with her life? And how come she had recognised him as soon as they had met. Did she feel the same way about him? Where did she live and, oh how many more questions he wanted to ask her. He remembered the day he saw her off back to, where was it? Oh yes, Norwich, that was it. Home, she said and to her folks, promising to write. She had but they had not met up again. J had taken the job offer and she had found a post graduate position somewhere. He should have remembered but he didn’t. He travelled, worked overseas, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and for a time in West Africa to return with a family and a career that fizzled out into a pattern of appointments followed by redundancies.
The third line, as predictable as the first “When do we want It?” this time a question with the only answer shouted loudly, or as loudly as stretched vocal chords and weak lungs could do so. He had to speak to her. Had to ask. Find out what she had done and talk to her. He needed to know. But what about his Maggie, at home baby-sitting the grandchildren for the day? He loved her, really loved her and that was important wasn’t it? Maggie meant his life and family, their children and grandchildren, the shared troubles, the shared joys and all that mattered. But Sandy, was the passion of young love, the love shared without responsibility when they were both undergraduates and had continued into their post graduate studies when they lived in the same flat. My God! What did she study? He barely remembered, but she had come away with a first and he had managed a good second. He looked up, startled by the sudden louder shout.
Fourth line, so predictable in answer to the question but shouted with enthusiasm and raised hands bunched in wrinkled fists. “Now!”
And he lowered his gaze looking for her, thinking, now, he should speak with her, but she was gone, lost in the crowd. J panicked, he had lost her again, Sandy was gone, disappeared as she had done before. He stood placard in hand lowered now, as low as his spirits and let the crowd wash past him. The hello’s and the brief handclasping before they were parted by the organizers was all he had left of her; and the memories.
The marchers moved on and J found a bench to sit on feeling tired, disappointed with himself having lost interest in the protest. He sat for a while watching the London traffic go past and in a quieter moment when he was rested he left the placard on the seat and walked away.
“What do I want?” he muttered and smiled.
He knew what he wanted; it was waiting for him at home.