Just walking under Camden railway bridge now, right under Che Guevara’s face. Lenny hated it. He had grown to hate that face. Lenny was not American, or middle-aged; but he saw it everywhere, it had lost all meaning. It had become tired, iconic. It was empty. If it was an icon of anything anymore, it was something he could not bear to believe in. Lenny hated seeing that black hair, the chin, the cap, those eyes that focused somewhere behind him, however near or far he was. There was always a Guevara watching him from somewhere; a t-shirt, a poster, a lighter off a stranger, when he’s stood outside in the cold, only wanting to smoke in peace. Camden market was full of Che’s, though still he took this shortcut. Too many Che’s. Too many wannabes. Too many people without a clue what it used to stand for.
Lenny quietly dreamed of a revolution. Something to raze the world he knew to the ground. He ached for something to change. He didn’t think it would, necessarily, but why not hope? He wrote down each idea he had in a little red notebook that he kept in his trouser pocket. There was a tiny pencil slipped through the ring bind, near impossible to write with, but handy at least. (Lenny’s only perk of being dragged to IKEA as a young teenager with his parents was refilling a stash of tiny pencils- and since IKEA was a huge company, it was almost a small defiance. Class warfare even; a tiny victory.) Sometimes he wrote down an idea that struck him, other times he would write down a line of something he overheard walking past strangers, and that would be enough. Ambling easily on, but his mind was buzzing. A walk to deceive the speed of his mind, darting, jutting, pausing and gasping for oxygen, and darting off again, a thousand welcomed questions, his new purchase in his kaki Eastpak, the black box against his spine.
Lenny didn’t like the idea of impulse buying, he could have happily spewed for hours, on how it was a symptom, (a weakness of character), caused by intensive advertising being forced upon the passive masses, those with perceived financial power could allow themselves this action, but really it made them poorer, which was not empowering at all, et cetera et cetera. Anyway, what Lenny was doing was different, he told himself. He’d been struck by another of his ideas. He hadn’t been coerced into the exchange. There was no buyer’s remorse, a repulsive and inevitable malady of consumerism. Was he experiencing the rush of pleasure he had seen shopping arouse in others? Still, he despised the pleasure he had allowed himself. But should he not congratulate his resourcefulness too? Lenny could easily have spent that money on anything else, but he chose something useful and significant; surely there was no cause for regret in that? And he was living up to his ideological beliefs. How many people these days can say that for themselves, Left, Right or deranged?
The act had been sudden, but it was rational. And humble. He had seen it and wanted it and obtained it. Something he had instantly longed for; it was a strange feeling, as if from nowhere.
That object, the black box it came in; it was like it was ready with its own coffin. A World War Two gas mask. With it, Lenny was preparing himself somehow. Nothing he could bear to say out loud, nothing he could bear to hear himself say. But then why shouldn’t he have one? He had handed over that crumpled, anarchic document, stained with the Queen’s face, in exchange for something practical. He had committed another minor victory. Money has no meaning, no intrinsic value. What fools! He didn’t even use banks if he could help it. He only believed in the money he could hold. It was in his pocket right now- everything he owned. But not all his money had to be austerely portioned into necessities like heat and food and running his bike. He did his job every day, a servant to the bourgeoisie, he’d say. It was his money. He smirked thinking how they had given this money to him, and how he’d used it to prepare himself against them.
– – –
You know this is all reverie; gas won’t be used. It will all be nuclear and over in minutes. But don’t think about that now. Now you are walking home with a gas mask weighing in you Eastpak. Now you can see your front door. The last Che you saw was a while back, and he’s facing the other way. Tonight, all you need to do is go back to your little rented room, unlace your big black boots, tread them off by the wall, and lie on that single bed, with the black box beside you. Your hand can feel it. If you are still for long enough, the feeling disappears, so you push your fingertips against the corners for the sensation; the box is still there. You fall asleep with your hand over the lid. So still you look like you’ve died in your sleep. But you’re dreaming. And still, the hand will feel for the box. A quiet sleep.