The streets of London are full of remarkable people. Yesterday I passed a man in his late twenties or early thirties wearing red socks, blue trousers, and a green jacket with a mustard waistcoat. But it was not the colour of his clothes that made him stand out so vividly in my mind. It was his bushy moustache, the ends of which had been waxed to needle-like points.
The last time I had seen a man with a waxed moustache was nearly fifty years ago when I was a child. Every Sunday he came to Mass at the church I attended with my parents. I knew I was not supposed to turn and stare at other people. I was supposed to close my eyes and pray but I could not help being fascinated by this elderly man, very neatly dressed in clothes that were positively Edwardian (not that I knew that at the time) with what I assumed must be a bone through his moustache.
I was deeply puzzled by this. How could a bone grow on the outside of the body? It was my elder brother who finally enlightened me that the ends of the old man’s moustache were waxed. The question I asked him was the same as the one I would have liked to put to the harlequin who walked past me yesterday. Why?
I have to admit, I had a closeted childhood. All my worldly experience until I was at least twelve years of age was derived from the characters I encountered each Sunday in church. I got to know them in intense detail, my errant gaze exploring each mole, each line, each neglected bristle of their complexions, learning the geography of their hairstyles, listing the details of their wardrobes.
In time I became so familiar with them that I longed to put them aside, like a newspaper that has been read from first page to last. I thirsted for a larger, wider world and I determined that I would go to university and seek it out. And at first university did seem like that wider world, full of promise and infinite variety. But after a while I began to see the same characters who had inhabited the pews of my little church, taking up their seats in the lecture hall.
Since that time they have followed me everywhere. I keep thinking that around the next corner there will be an entirely new, utterly astonishing population waiting to be discovered. But the same faces keep reappearing.
Recently I have had enquiries about the film rights to two of my books one by a Polish director, the other by a UK based production company. At first, I was greatly excited and I found myself thinking that at last I could discern the shores of that country I had been trying to reach for so long.
Then I saw the young man with the waxed moustache. It was as though he had been sent to convey a message to me. I almost expected him to turn to me with a wry smile and say, ‘We will always be here you know. ‘