Technically, I suppose this incident would be ‘people listening’, but that would suggest I walked the streets of the Birmingham suburbs with my eyes closed. Which in itself is a risky business with the vast array of other ‘business’ on the pavements. People watching, to some, is thought of as a little rude, an ungracious imposition on the poor fellows being viewed. So I do try to keep my people watching to a covert minimum, although today I could not help but let out a smothered giggle beneath a wry smile while walking past a couple of muscular Jamaican fellows.
Clearly one of them was nursing a recently shattered heart. Snippets of broken relationships are often some of the more intriguing titbits gleaned from listening in. These little windows into the lives and reactions of others are fascinating and readily spark the literary imagination. Throughout history and our modern voyeuristic magazine culture, the demise of someone’s happiness, dreams and lives, are so unbearably interesting, they have become a commodity in themselves. Grown adults clamour for recent news on the smashed shards of ‘celebrity’ (I use in the loosest of terms) relationships and the will-they-won’t-they fascination only possibly befitting the most fairytale romances. So popularised has this form of people watching become, we as a species, seem to think it is somehow our right to know the personal fallouts of another’s break-up, as if celebrity is somehow a new fiction in which to get lost.
Understandably then, the resulting feuds become unrealistic versions of reality themselves. A break up is depicted as loud and terrible; plates smashed, beds doused in Bombay Sapphire Gin, photos and clothes destroyed in remarkably inventive ways. It is true, however, when the termination of something so long invested in occurs, a simple sense of madness may creep in. Our house having been used in the past for more than one traumatised escapee, I have been privy to some of the strange packing rituals the afflicted endure; kitchen heat mats, rolling pins, empty DVD boxes, a DS charger without the DS, clip top sandwich bags, proof that rational thought has left the room. It is in these cases that the ‘friend’ involved becomes of great interest. The condolences and reassurances that utter from their lips may be meant in the deepest sincerity, but to an onlooker may prove rather entertaining. I am quite aware that, had I ever been overheard myself, I would undoubtedly find myself mocked – how many normal people would offer up a stale baguette and six eggs for another to destroy in her garden?
But I feel I have strayed from my point and as a result, my stolen conversation has possibly lost some of its humour. What I am striving to show is, that through all the popularity of people watching, we often miss the reality. We often forget the human quality in a break up and the little moments which mean so much. We also forget that such things happen to everyone at one point or another, no matter creed, colour or culture. Today, my giggle showed that I was guilty of forgetting. Why should a 6′ 4″ (and then some!) dread-locked, muscle bound Jamaican man not openly sob his heart ache on the street? His companion, no less intimidating, was doing his damnedest to console him, a ripped arm around rather triangular shoulders as they perched on the edge of a garden wall. His voice was soft but proactive, ” . . . if she’s going to be like that, let her. You don’t need the drama.” A good piece of advice, I thought. But I wasn’t quite expecting what came next, “Tell you what, we’ll go to one of those places and get you your own cat.” Followed by a man hug.
Yes, it made me giggle, but it was a glorious piece of people watching which opened my eyes to a realistic, honest, fresh-air-breath of humanity. And this is why REAL people watching is actually SO DAMN IMPORTANT. Sod the magazines and the glorified stick insects which parade their emotional washing like the most recent handbag. A ludicrous fiction. The real wealth of fictional heartache comes from realistic pain. Likewise, genuine joy and humour lies within the true sense of it in everyday people. For me, I currently have the most wonderful, sun-drenched image of this giant of a man, hands like spades, carefully resting a tiny ginger kitten in his palm, its soft happy mew causing a single tear to fall from his eye. And however she broke his heart, I hope it will not taint his softness and gentle strength.
So, perhaps I was a touch wrong. Maybe people watching/listening is not only a right but totally necessary! But lets get it right people. Throw the magazines out and turn off the television. Take a short walk around your locale and listen a little harder. You may over-hear something real which makes the world a little bit brighter. A reality which sparks the most vivid fiction.
Just watch what you step in!