Natty Man

A moment of elation, an unanswered question

| September / October 2006

A man I know slightly rides past our house on his bicycle going uphill. He looks natty in his two-tone jacket and tight black pants. His fifties-style bicycle completes the look, which is self-conscious but well done. Our hill is steep-at the point where gravity and the man's efforts are equally matched, the front wheel wobbles before surging up again. On another person this moment of hesitation could look like waywardness, but on him, a man who pronounces judgments on things without considering the options, the wobble looks more like a flourish.

It's one of those fall days when the air feels like a kiss. The children's voices rise up and down behind me filled with happy notes; occasionally one of them appears, eyes lit with some idea, and the odd leaf makes its way to the ground. I'm sitting on the porch feeling lucky about all this-air, children, leaves-when a single word (Yes!) bursts out from the quiet somewhere high up on the hill. I can't see who's made this word because the view is blocked by trees; it's a man's voice and at first I assume the word will be followed by other words in another voice. But there are none. I am still looking in the direction of the sound because it is that sort of day; I have nothing really to do, and I'm enjoying the last bit of light sunny air when the natty man reappears. This time he's going downhill, and he's taken his jacket off. The jacket's nowhere to be seen, in fact, and I remember that he had glasses on the first time, and now they also are gone. He's going down our hill, and he's apparently just finished talking to himself. There's a look of satisfaction on his face, as though the conversation couldn't be more complete: all sides considered, weighed, and decided upon. As he passes, I wonder would he mind that I have witnessed this moment, and then I think of times when the conversation in my head has suddenly burst forth and I've heard myself talking out loud. The man passes down the street, the children play in the room above me, and I think of all of us in our barely contained worlds and wonder how we manage this every day, keeping it so tamped down and quiet. How do we do that?

Jane Silcott won second prize for creative nonfiction in the 2005 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Literary Awards. Reprinted from Geist (Spring 2006), a magazine of Canadian ideas and Canadian culture. Subscriptions: $25/yr. (4 issues) from #200-341 Water St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 1B8, Canada;

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