Natty Man

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
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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