An old man sits alone at a table in a room now empty, which just minutes ago had reverberated to multiple voices, outstretched hands and looks of hero worship. But certainly this man would never call himself a hero, to do so would seem wrong, to discredit those whose voices can no longer be heard – whether extinguished long ago in his distant memory, or in the recent years of old age, it matters not. The brotherhood of service was then, is still now, as his elderly colleagues shuffle off for a well-deserved lunch and rest.
As he sits in that bare moment I want to go over to talk, to put into action that day, that moment, that I’ve dreamt so long of. But here, in a meeting room at a hotel next to a busy dual carriageway I stand rooted to the spot. Has the morning’s work of signing the endless conveyor belt of books and posters thrust his way exhausted the energy of an old man, or has it brought back those memories that seem so vivid, so real, so not of seventy years ago? In the same way that I can feel the visceral emotion of the lasers and the smoke of the warehouse balcony, the confusion of the club, can he still remember the roar of cannon, smell of glycol, and the taste of fear?
Like a line of ghosts, they are just still present in our world, just still faintly visible to the eye. So frail, so hard to hear, so hard to reach out to; What can I ask, what can I say? Even now I don’t know what would have been right. I wish that the right words had been there for me to say, but they weren’t. But now I can: Thank you Tom, Geoffrey, Peter, William, Bill, Bob, Nigel and Tony. I’m glad I met you, you are there for me when the days are dark.
People often tell me that I’m brave, I don’t know why. “I’m not brave, I’m just trying to stay alive” is what I always say, like something heard whispered from a ghost passing by…