The Making of the Man
Five years old, and summer, and the children are playing, their whooping calls and laughs grating against Robson’s ears as he stands apart from the crowd. He would never be one of them, free to cavort and caper across the green fields, and to cheer in the warm air. How could he hoot and be merry with those words in the back of his head? Father isn’t coming home. He could never smile with them, and they hated him for it.
Older now, and in a darker place, and a fist slamming into his gut. He doubles over and splutters red on the cobbles, and does nothing to stop the hands that begin to rifle through his pockets. He has nothing to take anyway, but that won’t stop them. This isn’t about money, it’s about who he is, and what he isn’t, and he isn’t one of them. He’s a target, nothing more, and it’s all he can do to hide the tears as the fists come down again and again and again.
She presses the soaked cloth to his face, trying to wipe away the worst of the blood, but it’s no good. The split lip has turned his chin red, and each cheek is an angry welt, scars from a battle he has already lost and will lose again. There will be no hiding this time, only mocking apathy and worse scorn. He looks up, into her diamond blue eyes, and she smiles somehow. With him here bleeding and sore, she actually smiles as she takes his hand.
“A soldier,” she laughs. ”A hero.”
Everything stops hurting.
“Smile.” Comes the command, and Robson forces his face into something like a grin, hand tightly gripping hers, perhaps too tightly. He doesn’t want this moment to end; he wants more than the photograph to be frozen in time. He could stay here forever. All too soon, the flash comes, and she steps away slightly, leaving his smile to fade with the receding glare on his retinas.
e could stahe here foreer.
Older still, lost in the smog of London streets, another day at the factory stretching out endlessly before him. Footstep by lethargic footstep he treads the cobbles, through the fog and bustling crowds, no one sight lingering for more than a second. An old beggar becomes a drunken youth that falls away and transforms again into a smart, clean-shaven soldier smiling giddily at the world. The figured seems to transfix Robson, a picture of another life, his father’s life; adventure and glory awaits this man, worth the risk. This, Robson decides, is real freedom.
Later, and the day has ebbed away, second by second. He lifts the tankard to his lips and drowns his exhaustion in the foaming beer, the world distorted by the emptying glass, blurring shapes becoming solid once more. And those shapes, khaki and red and diamond blue, entwined in the smoky corner of the bar. She stands there, laughing, with a soldier and a hero and not him. Someone tugs at Robson’s sleeve, waving a formless limb at the door and escape. He doesn’t even think twice as he takes the hand of the girl he never loved and slips into the oblivion of her arms.
War. Britain is at war, and every face in those serried ranks of khaki marching off reminded him of that night where he lost everything to a faceless soldier. He looks away as the crowd passes, as women throw themselves towards the green-brown line and are thrown back, a cascade of flowers their parting gesture. Wherever these men are going, they leave as heroes, and the men they leave behind are cowards. No one will give him a second glance now. There is nothing left for him here.
“Name?” says the officer, and Robson stammers something unintelligible, trying not to wither under his stare. “Name?”
“Robson. Ian Robson.” He says again, clearer this time, and the officer nods. Robson wrings his hands as the next question comes, the one that will decide his future.
“Eighteen.” He says.
“Very good.” The officer frowns, but hands him the papers. What is that in his face? Anger at being lied to? Jealousy that Robson has the courage to fight while he sits here doling out forms? No, it’s pity, but he doesn’t know why. He had lied, and the officer knows it, but what did it matter now? Robson was going to war…
- The style for this piece is a very different one to a lot of this series, in several ways. First of all, it is written in a very 'instant' manner, and by that, I mean that it should hopefully be a bombardment of moments, an entire life on the page.
- The other decision I made here was to narrate it in the present tense. I think this adds to the immediacy of the various scenes, and to the idea that everything is happening in a flash, as opposed to having already been and gone. I also wanted a direct contrast with Smith's sections- where Smith is slow and often poetic in his descriptions, Robson is very much more sudden in his way of looking at the world. If it doesn't 'happen', he loses interest, hence why this piece is so jumpy.
- This piece also represents the start of Part 2 of the series, set in 1915, and should both contrast with the last chapter of Part 1 and lead nicely into the next few chapters.
- As a final note, I've edited Robson's first-written last-chronologically piece, Back To Life, to better reflect the themes and ideas that came to me in forming the character here. Check it out here.
That's all for today. As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to comment.