Memories and Nightmares: The Man Who Ran Away
The Man Who Ran Away
I was a girl of seven in 1957, living with my Mum, a single parent, on a new council estate that had been built on farmland on the outskirts of Bristol. Mum had to leave for work in the factory early in the morning and she didn't get back until the early evening. I was used to amusing myself by drawing, painting, making dolls' clothes/models etc. before school. After school I often played alone or with a friend in the fields.
It was late afternoon at the end of summer and I was playing with another small girl in a meadow a fair distance from the edge of the estate. The seeded grass was long and rather dry. A path which bordered the field to my left led into dense woodland straight ahead. A line of tall trees, at regular intervals, separated the field I was in from the next, running all along the side of the path and merging with the wood. The trees might have been poplars. The low sun was GOLDEN - streaming through the trees, casting long shadows over the path and the field.
A man came along, pushing a bicycle. He was an ordinary man of ordinary build, wearing a dun grey gabardine raincoat, belted at the waist. His trousers were caught in by bicycle clips. His hair was swept back in that late 40's style - short back and sides. (not a quiff - nothing so stylish) I remember nothing of his face - he stood still with hands on the handle bars, looking across the field at us. He was lit from behind by the sun, but his form was in shadow and the light was in my eyes. We were close enough to see that the man beckoned to us.
My little friend said 'he wants us to go over and speak to him' - I replied with the classic line that had been drummed into me - ' My Mum says I must never speak to strange men' - then I turned and ran all the way home.
That's all, except that in a strange way, this memory has combined in my imagination with the image I have of my 'missing' father (- 'the man who ran away' according to my mother). I'd seen a couple of black and white snapshots of him and over time I've gradually merged these images into the memory of the 'mystery man' with the bicycle. The encounter has managed to remain, at the same time, a visually very beautiful memory, yet is also remembered as mysterious and rather sinister. I'm left with the memory of this shadowy male who has become the archetype of a father figure.