Successful day today. I’m ahead of the game this morning, both in work and study. So, it being a bright beautiful British Columbian day, Mrs S and I went out to sort out some last few details before we pootle off on our grand six week trans-american adventure in just over one weeks time. We’re erring on the side of caution on our trip back across the Rocky Mountains and opting for the southerly route via I-70 via Colorado Springs and Grand Junction to miss the snows, then picking up the road north to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone Park. We hope not to become asphyxiated by either the Sulphur or Carbon Dioxide emanations of the big caldera, or the Marijuana fumes while we’re passing through Colorado. We’ve even set time aside so I can pay a flying visit to the Bonneville salt flats. If they’ve dried out enough to drive on by mid May.
While Mrs S was shopping for last minute springtime clothes, I eschewed the normal respite of the Husband chair and sat outside in the main mall to enjoy the sunlight. I put on my shades, closed my eyes, kicked back and let my other senses take over. Why? Let me explain. When I was very small, I had a morbid fear of going blind. No idea why, I just did. Small children left to their own devices for too long often develop eccentric world views and I had a fairly solitary early childhood. So in order to prepare for what I mistakenly thought was inevitable, I used to close my eyes and tried to use my hearing, smell and touch instead of visible light to fix my position in the world. To train myself for the worst, if it happened. Nothing serious, just trying to work out where I was, and what all the various noises and smells around me meant. How the sound echoes off bare walls and in heavily furnished rooms. Trying to use my ears and touch alone to echo-locate myself in the confines of my room. Developing my sensitivity to sense the kiss of air on the back of my neck as someone passes close behind me, the sound of their footsteps dopplering from right to left, the scent of their body, perfumed or not if they come close enough. Sensing the very electricity of their motion through the world, from the sparkling erratic uncertainty of small children, the fizzing of their older peers, crackling discharge anxieties of the born worriers with their erratic shallow breathing. The soft grunts of an extremely overweight person as they make their heavy footway along the tiled mall.
As a boy I used to cheat, slightly opening my eyes so I had a visual memory to associate with the sensations surrounding me. Now I don’t have to unless the smell is so obscure or the sound unfamiliar it falls outside my aural lexicon.
When you close your eyes the world of the other senses opens like a flower, swamping everything that sight normally blinds you to. What is that approaching grumbling noise? An Earthquake? A massive truck? Or more prosaically a deliveryman’s steel wheeled sack truck on concrete? As he passes, a waft of Pepperoni, dough and cheese tells he just had pizza for lunch. The “Yeah?”, “Right.”, and “Mm-hm”, “Well he like er..” and “She like er….” of multiple random cell phone conversations within earshot. The meaningless squealing of teenage girls as they navigate their developing social vortices. Does anyone really listen to themselves? Or is that not the point?
Then the distinctively fleshy, slightly foetid, hormone heavy smell of a pregnant woman insinuates itself into my educated nostrils. I can hear her behind me, the mildly waddling, shuffling gait, hesitantly stopping in front of the women’s clothing shop behind me, presumably looking enviously at all the elegant clothes she aspires to get back into when her child has come into the world. I don’t know, there are things sound and smell alone cannot tell you, but the scent of a woman in late pregnancy is quite distinctive.
All the time the sheer background whispering roar of humanity and muted traffic noise passes by a single seated figure wearing sunglasses, head tilted slightly back, small smile ghosting across his face, precisely in the moment. Privately wondering at the magic of it all and quietly praying that no-one interrupts his solitary enjoyment.
Then at the edge of hearing, a set of familiar footsteps that I know like my own heartbeat. Behind my shades, my eyes open and smile broadens. “Hello love. Got what you needed?” Time to move on. The rest of the day beckons.