Who can be sure about memory? They say that even the truest seeming reminiscence, retrieved diligently from the arrayed banks in the brain, can be false.
So I went back.
The train journey was uneventful, so enough said about that. But then I struggled to find the bus stop. In fact – even the bus station was gone – knocked down years ago so that yet another office box could sit in its place. There it squatted – no doubt coldly dreaming of ghost buses passing through its bowels, but of little help to me.
I asked around, using my childhood voice so that they could tell that I was from around there; that I wasn’t a total naif, and eventually I was directed to the right bus stop.
Sitting on the upper deck, I travelled the route accompanied by my own phantoms – the pretty faced girl who had refused to talk to me because I’d been too shy to talk to her the year before, the girl with short hair and crossed eyes who I had kissed for medicinal purposes, and the back seat full of rowdy football fans who had done a comical double-take when I’d begun to sing drunkenly along with them. A bus full of emptiness overlaying the bored teenage girl who sat staring at nothing at all whilst listening, at ear-destroying volume, to Twenty One Pilots on leaky earphones.
I popped the pegs of a Satsuma into my mouth, one by one, as the bus entered the last stretch, and was so engrossed in looking for my stop that the last piece was chewed and gone before I could enjoy it. As I stepped off the bus, I was still wishing for the closure of another burst of juicy flesh.
Facing me was the same petrol station, but Texaco instead of Jet. The houses opposite looked new, and I was struck with the thought of how permanent we think things will be. I’d had no idea that the house at which we used to knock to get wind fallen apples would have totally vanished, short decades later.
I found myself wishing I’d taken photographs of everything back then, and with a flash of insight I realised why Japanese tourists are always snapping away at the most ordinary seeming things. When it comes to constructing The Matrix, the combined weight of Japanese photography will prove to be invaluable.
The walk that followed contained too many changes for me to be able to list them all, and too many memories to fit into this account and so let me just say that I found myself, some minutes later, sat on the step where I had found that fateful letter, so many years before.
Actually, to say I sat on a step is a lie. It no longer existed. It had gone the way of the blanket in Derek and Clive’s amusing little ditty about a man, formerly shouting and screaming at an upper-storey window. If you don’t recall him, you’ll have to make your own pilgrimage of remembrance.
But see how I divert my thoughts into trivia to sidestep and mask any painful memories that might come. I can feel the urge to stop writing now, and read a book instead.
Actually, there’s no need even for that, because the rest of it is here: The Letter.