I looked around me. It was late evening and I was standing in the square, having just parked my car. There was a distinct edginess in the air – almost a sense of menace. You couldn’t miss it. I had seen far too many Garda cars prowling around on my way into town. People were walking a shade faster than they should have been – just a shade, but I noticed it. Something was going on, although I couldn’t say what. Something was about to happen – either that or my old friend paranoia was coming back… As I stood there, taking it all in, a dark-suited elderly man came out of nowhere (or possibly a pub door) and almost walked into me.
“How’rya,” he greeted me, looking surprised to see me there on the pavement in front of him. He was a tall man with a big build, and there was something very solid and unshakeable about him, despite his evident age. He appraised me briefly as he passed me, never breaking his stride. He didn’t look or sound drunk but there was something about the way that he walked that let me know he had a good few drinks inside him. Maybe it was the unshakeable momentum I sensed in him – the feeling that he was almost like a train running along invisible tracks on the pavement. “How are you doing,” I automatically responded, acknowledging the man with a nod as he passed by. Oddly, I felt that I knew him. It was as if I knew him by osmosis, just in that very brief moment.
Then he was gone. He immediately proceeded to vanish like a phantom into the night. Not only did he vanish quickly, he vanished so thoroughly that I was left with the very strange impression that the encounter had never happened in the first place. I found myself wondering if I had imagined it. There was something uncanny about the way he came out of nowhere in a rush and then immediately got swallowed up again by the night – it had been so brief, so perfunctory as to be almost self-erasing.The event had swallowed itself up.
That’s a very interesting idea, I thought to myself, a self-erasing event. Only for him perhaps, it would have been the other way around. I would be the one who had vanished into the night as if he had never existed. As if I had never existed. I would be the self-erasing event. Which was right? For a moment, this made me feel very peculiar indeed. Vertigo threatened me. I was teetering on the edge: a wave of pure ontological panic crashed over me as I struggled desperately to re-assert my identity. And then – suddenly recovering my wits along with my sense of purpose – I dropped off my two rented DVDs in the shop, got back in the car, and headed up the N18 back in the direction of Galway.