In his Nadja, André Breton demonstrated how, in his ostensibly aimless wanderings, the wanderer is always, in truth, looking for something. Even before he becomes a wanderer he feels he needs something and that he must do something to acquire it. The restless impetuous builds up in his bones and so, not knowing what it is he’s looking for, he takes to the streets. Though I too wandered, aimless, I knew precisely what it was that I sought, though I had no idea where to find it. Happiness: that which is at once impursuable and demands pursuit. But the impetus took me and I trudged through the city. Every now and again I’d pass a couple in love, hand in hand, and I’d feel the resentment build up in my breast. They’d never care, however; they had eyes only for each other.
As I walked I passed a street-beggar with a metal can before him, a few coins littering its bottom. He had a piece of cardboard in his hand, upon which in black felt-tip pen he had inscribed: “ITEM WANTED: HUMAN KINDNESS.” Yeah, I thought, that’s all any of us really want. We were the same, he and I, he begging for a little kindness, I roaming the streets hoping to find some happiness, both equally hopeless. I saw myself in his place, my energy finally expended, slumped against a wall with my head downcast. I dug my hand into my pocket and emptied its contents into his tin. I felt the coins slip from my palm and, as I walked away, all I felt was regret that I didn’t have more to give. I noticed him nod his thanks out of the corner of my eye.
I remembered a moment years ago when, walking along Fleet Street, I caught sight of a homeless man tucked up in an alcove to the side of the pavement, taking a picture of a hedgehog that lay dead on his hand with a digital camera. That’s what I thought I saw, anyway; I was too caught up in my own thoughts to go back and double-check. It seems even more absurd when I recall the event now. But at the time I had thoughts only for my own future. I noticed the strange scene and went on my way. I walked westward, up towards the Strand and between KCL and what was then the BBC, entertaining the vague fancy that someone would emerge from either institution and offer me a place or a job. As it happens, later on, when I decided to study literature at university despite my conspicuous lack of credentials, it was only KCL that decided to give me a chance. I hope I have vindicated their faith in me. It seems my own hopes were vindicated, then anyway.
Despite all that, though, what has changed? I pursued my dreams, achieved some hopes, and now... nothing. Where, after all, does my worth precisely lie? I sometimes imagine that my ability to manipulate words, in some, paltry way, makes me worthy. I still do, as a matter of fact. I still think that, in attempting to create something beautiful, I can somehow achieve some kind of significance. That I can stand back and say: “Look, isn’t that a beautiful thing?” and feel proud and contented. But can that really be true? I mean, really? After all, here I am, a human soul that shiver-shivers in a living carcass, carbonising and expiring. What does it avail a man to string words together if, one day, he’ll breathe his last and die alone and unloved?
The evenings draw in so suddenly these days. As I walked the sun began to set, heading down towards the western horizon, though it was still really quite light. In the east the sky was still a pale blue, though the fluffy clouds that drifted lazily about were undertinted with grey and pink. And there the crescent moon hung low, like an eyeless smiley-face hanging off the end of a light-hearted message.
Image taken from Thomas Cole's The Voyage of Life (1842)