I wouldn’t be writing this if Peter Callaghan hadn’t died in front of me in the street.  One moment he was strolling towards me in his slow, self-confident gait, the ambulatory equivalent of a southern drawl; and the next moment he was stretched out at my feet, his body twitching and twisting as if wracked by an invisible torment. He made no sound, so far as I could hear, but I saw  his mouth open in a silent scream, and his eyes screw themselves into narrow slits. Then people began crowding round, the police arrived, followed by an ambulance, and he was carted off, first to hospital, and thence, as it transpired,  to the morgue.

Although I knew him well by sight,  he had never told me anything about himself beyond his first name: Peter. So it was not until the next day, while listening to the morning news, that I learned something about him. He turned out to be a back bench politician from a rural area, adored by his constituents, but thoroughly disliked elsewhere on account of  his extreme views, and his refusal to toe the party line. According to the radio commentary, he had been suspected of communist leanings because of his support for universal state subsidies, and of being a fascist because he had spoken in favour of Northern Ireland,  Quebec separatism and the break-up of the European Community. Apparently, he was wealthy, which to his detractors made him corrupt; and rabidly anti-feminist, which made him politically incorrect. In short, he was an embarrassment, a nuisance. In the world at large, he had lots of enemies; and although the post-mortem had not yet been conducted, the nature and suddenness of his death led police to suspect etc., etc.

Whatever the truth about Peter Callaghan’s view of things, he was unfailingly pleasant to me. He seemed to understand that I, too, am a nuisance to my fellows; and he always stopped to buy a box of chocolates from me whenever he caught sight of me hawking my wares in the street. He would take a box from the open bag at my feet, thrust a five-dollar bill into the purse round my waist, and then chat for a minute or two about the weather, or the price of food, or some other inconsequential matter. The chocolates were three dollars a box, but he insisted on paying five . He was like that; at least with me.  Now that I think back upon it, I see his generosity towards me as an act of solidarity from someone who was an irritant by profession to one who was an irritant because God had willed him thus. So when he collapsed in front of me, I felt stricken myself; for although I hardly knew him, I thought of him as my friend. He was of the few  happily able to ignore my clumsiness, my slurred speech and incompetent limbs and address me as if I stood, and spoke and thought like everyone else............

The Chocolate Man, published by Cormorant Press, Canada, 1995.

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