During my two years here, three men have stood out from the crowd. The first one I saw at the amphitheatre one September evening in 2011. Strolling through the ancient pillars and mosaics carrying a radio under his arm wrapped up in a plastic bag listening and dancing to U2 – A Beautiful Day.
It was an odd sight. A bearded middle-aged man dancing to U2 in a second century Roman Amphitheatre. Like an elderly uncle on the dance floor at a wedding. One foot forward. Then back. Slow yet precise. Mechanised.
American tourists looking at him wondering whether to laugh. While at the same time giving him a wide berth just in case the radio was a bomb. He said something to them which I heard but didn’t understand. Something to do with La Soane, but it could have been anything. Sommet, sonner, sommer…
I’ve seen him a lot during my time here. His radio religiously tuned to Nostalgia FM. Madonna, Bruce, The Clash, and of course U2. Always dancing. He looks kinda cool.
The second man is the Train Spotter who’s probably the same age as U2 but doesn’t dance. He stands in the park at twenty-to-two most afternoons waiting for the train that takes the children on the tours round the zoo. Staring with his big eyes as the excited kids and obedient parents board the tiny carriages. The taller fathers and mothers crushed into the miniature compartments like Barbie dolls living in Legoland.
He knows the driver and I suspect that he used to work for the park authority at some point. Maybe even the driver and now retired he can’t help coming back to check up on his train.
I’ve seen him even more often than U2 because the train leaves from where I start my runs. He always looks happy and chats with everyone and when the train pulls in, a huge smile spreads across his face like a knob of butter melting over a hot crumpet. He’s like a child waiting for Christmas. And when Santa’s sleigh finally arrives, he can’t help but cry.
The third man is the Demonic Lone Ranger who is the strangest and most sinister of the bunch. Lizard Man was my first name for him when I saw him crossing the University Bridge one cold morning at the beginning of 2012. Black drain pipe jeans and a black trench coat so filthy it looked like it had been washed in chip fat. He became the Demonic Lone Ranger because he wore a black oily Stetson and black cowboy boots.
I see him crossing the bridge where I live always wearing the same clothes. Or sometimes in St. Jean near the footbridge over the Soane. Like the Train Spotter I’ve seen him so many times over the past year, I’ll never be able to forget his face. A face that has never been washed, or shaved, or even scratched or marked. The face of a doll that’s been out of its packet for forty years and left to gather dust.
He looks thin and gaunt, his nose like that of an eagle’s talon, his mouth too small for his face, his eyes black. Always squinting at the light. His Stetson pulled low on his brow. The Demonic Lone Ranger.
So it was astonishing that yesterday I should see all three of them in the park sitting together on a bench. Chatting jovially about football, traffic lights recalibrations and the recent price increase in the plat du jour. Or talking about world domination, the antichrist, the end of existence. I have no idea. I was too flabbergasted to listen in.
Even today I’m still trying to find the link. It all seems too implausible. So I keep waiting for the black clouds to appear over the tower where I work. Like the final scene in Ghostbusters where everything kicks off at the top of the skyscraper. Portal to Hell. End of the world. The Gate Keeper. The Key Master. That sort of thing.
The three wise men planning my next move for life after Lyon. Sitting on the park bench yesterday discussing my future. I have to go to work soon and I think I’ll walk instead of cycle. Eat a carrot instead of the roast chicken and chips I normally have for lunch on a Friday. Drink orange instead of beer. I want to be on top form when the decision is finally made by my friends. My guardians, who have watched over me for the past two years. U2, the Train Spotter and the Demonic Lone Ranger.