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darran anderson the old man and the traffic iland on

s t o r i e s   b y

d a r r a n   a n d e r s o n




i will have my revenge on the
bastard tree that broke the neck
of albert camus

life after godhood

the old man & the traffic island

the last man


t h e   o l d   m a n   a n d  
t h e   t r a f f i c   i s l a n d

b y    d a r r a n   a n d e r s o n


They never ever stop, night and day. Seasons run into each other like myxamytosis rabbits and still the swinehounds go on. Barbarians, philistines, pirates sailing past in bobbing sardine cans, an endless stream of high velocity metal on and on as the world turns on its axis.
While I’m shipwrecked, frozen to the spot here, a man grown old before his time tossed up and ignored like driftwood onto this island, an embarrassment like a punch up at a funeral.
I’ve given up trying to get across. It’d be suicide. They’ll never stop, they wouldn’t even see me until I’m pulverized under the wheels or splattered against the shattered windscreen. Even then they’d probably just turn on the wipers, put their foot down on the accelerator, shift gears and be beyond the horizon before I breathe my last.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been here on this traffic island, the clockwork in my watch rusted to a halt long long ago. I made it here at the end of the fuel crisis when there was an extraordinary lull in the amount of people on the road due a clash of fundamentalisms and mentalists in the Middle East. It’s been so long I can’t remember where I was going at the time. But end up here I did. At the beginning, the first hour or so, my mood fluctuated between frustration and polite humour, dwelling on how absurd it was that I was trapped here and mystified that no chivalrous soul would understand and come to a standstill to allow me to traverse the highway and be on my merry way. It was that first night as the sun tired of me and moved on to illuminate other continents, the stars appeared and my breath came out in frozen plumes that bleak reality took hold. I looked out on the headlights streaming on and on and on like white blood cells and realised the traffic, like the Red Sea behind Moses, had closed in over my head.
So I settled down convinced rescue would come, live on television my foolishness would be beamed by satellite into five million living rooms for a heartwarming story at the end of the news to help the folks forget about cluster bombs and famine. Helicopters would winch me up onto clouds like a puppet of some god people forgot about and borne upward in defiance of gravity I’d float above rooftops, pylons, patchworked fields, above meandering blackwater rivers, alpine forests and the circuitry of the cities.
By the time the rain woke me the next morning my stomach rumbled like the epicentre of an earthquake and I realized I had no choice but to take destiny into my own hands. So I attempted to gain the attention of the drivers, force them to halt. I bellowed at them but the cruel roar of the engines turned my words mute. I attempted to hypnotise them with curious Siren dances and sea shanties, I lit a small fire with the last of my soggy matches, I bared my chill-blained buttocks to them, all to no avail. They zoomed past chattering into mobiles, faces transfixed on the tarmac ahead, eating up the white line with thoughts only of overtaking and deadlines. Just blinked past so quick the brain had no time to register having seen me. I was at best a ghost to them, a vagabond with an unhinged mind, howling at the moon and they would find many reasons to never ever stop. They knew as I did that traffic islands (like bookshops and bus depots) attract headcases the way magnets attract iron filings and it was no rare occurrence to see a bedraggled fellow barking and chasing after the wheels of cars like a rabid dog.
In the meantime I became biblical. My beard grew huge and tempestuous, my nails became feral talons, my clothes tattered into threadbare rags, my toes peered out through mouths in my boots. If those who whooshed past saw me there is every likelihood they’d mistake me for an emaciated tree gnarled and twisting towards the sky and swaying in the breeze. The only ones who would truly see me would be the children who’d beam and wave or the dogs with their heads out the window, their tongues unfurled like flags.
Giving up my attempts at escape I decided to explore the island. To my delight I found an empty beer bottle, the label peeled off by a sexually frustrated drunkard, which I used to collect precious rainwater. From the pinnacle of the streetlamp I could survey and map the entire island from the air, all five squared metres of it, and spot "land ho!" on the other side of the carriageway.
Then I waited.
As well as chilling me to the bone the wind, like an abusive partner suffering pangs of guilt and sobriety, brings me gifts, bric-a-brac that makes it through the lanes of traffic that have cordoned me off: empty packets of crisps, which I lick for salt and precious nutrients while force seven gales bring me broken umbrellas and walking sticks.
Having all the time in the world I have mastered the fine art of mimicking the mating calls of no less than sixteen varieties of birds and when the horny bastards swoop down looking for action I bash their brains out against the concrete. You’d be surprised how much meat is on the buggers. Rich pickings. In winter when they emigrate and leave the sky empty and the mornings silent I hibernate only awaking on Christmas Day when I celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus with the plump breast of a Red Robin.
In all weathers I sleep under my coat up against the plastic traffic bollard, the only thing on this godforsaken island that isn’t metal or concrete. After one particularly demented night of dreams, nightmares, visions (of I as Ahab fashioning a harpoon from a dislodged bumper and felling one of those great beasts right through the windscreen causing a delightfully mangled pileup over which I’d tip-toe to sanctuary) I tossed and turned so much I shook the hollow bollard loose and when I awoke I found it tilted to one side.
It was the foul smell that made me look inside. In there, in that small white and yellow tomb was the skeleton of one who had been here before, one like me who could not get to the other side nor turn back, one who was ignored on this island and had starved to death. Still wearing his clothes like a coat hanger would. I wept thinking of this Man Friday I could have had by my side. T’was then and there, licking those bones clean, I knew I was done for.
Churned up by currents and thrown onto the shoreline, grown old and weather-beaten like the wreckage of a once glorious armada. I can’t turn back to my past, my sarcophagus of memories, I can’t go forward for fear of death. I know this is my last chance. I have written this note on a scrap of newspaper that blew in from the west using the feather of a raven for a quill and its liver for an inkwell. I intend to roll it up and place it inside the bottle with which I collect rainwater. Without it I will not last long. I can only hope to muster the energy to toss it over several lanes of traffic. If you are reading these words there is a hope. Save. My. Soul.
I can only pray you find this in time.


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