Night Terrors

And the Virtue of Going Forth

A man walked past me on the street tonight, in the dark and the orange haze of the streetlight.

He had paused as I approached, still a ways off and he bent over to rummage in his shopping bags. He did this as if to kill time, like a tentative bather on the deck of a particularly icy pool. He poked away in the bags for the time it took me to draw quite close, before his hands finally came to rest on the radio that dangled from his neck.

It was a cheap thing, unspectacular, drab save for the single green beacon of a beady diode. It was the kind of thing one might expect to find as a lesser prize in a church raffle or nestled among elastic socks and dusty bifocals in some grandparent's neglected trove. It squawked softly as we passed each other, unobtrusively: a lilting mutter that hung in the air, innocent and cheerful like the banter of flight attendants on a red-eye, the miniature clanging of a bear-bell in the woods

Perhaps that is what he wore it for, as a bear-bell; its sound as much for the walker as it is for the bear. A charm carried in ernest on a venture of no real certainty, something to ward off evil spirits and ill fortune. He certainly looked like he could use it. His face bore the expression of someone for whom much had become too much. Perhaps he was the survivor of some incredible trauma, that this walk down a quiet suburban street at night was at once a trial and a triumph. Or, perhaps he was nobody special, perhaps some rather trivial set of circumstances had led to him having a slightly accentuated edginess, a vigilance beyond the norm. It was hard to tell.

Maybe it is because we travel so often and so safely that we take for granted that all travel is peril, that no arrival is certain, that misadventure is exactly that. It takes a certain courage, or ignorance, to leave the safety of one's home, one's cave or castle, and to venture forth into the unknown.