The Man in the Box, by Oliver Newman (illustrations by George Greaves)

 

The Man in the Box

the homeless man’s home was a transparent telephone box on the street by the cemetery and he lived in there during the daytime when he wasn’t out working to survive asking for excess and he slept there in the night time when sleep seemed like a sound idea people saw him living and people saw him sleeping they would walk past his clear prism prison and see him half-mounted on his soiled duvet his skin was dark and he did not have a beard in paris people would call him “sans-abri” which means without shelter which is strange because everyone in the world is without shelter from many things and he did have a shelter he lived in a transparent telephone box like I have described to you people would say nothing as they saw him but their seeing saying nothing would say many things all at once sometimes a young couple would pass by and move their eyes over his abode sometimes children would ask their parents questions that their parents effaced you know like teachers do with chalk from a black board and sometimes people would walk past and make jokes and laugh at the man and say things like look at that homeless man with dark skin and no beard whose home is a telephone box look at that man with his silly sullied duvet look at that man who lives in only one room look at that homeless man who does not have a home it seemed obvious that he lived there and had been doing so for many years because he or his meagre possessions would always be inside whenever you went past it seemed a convenient place to settle as a home for a homeless person funny no one ever thought that there might be a reason he was living in this place no one ever thought that this homeless man whose home was the phone box might be in the phone box waiting for something to happen no one ever thought that the homeless man in the phone box might be waiting for a phone call

one night the city was still and quiet in the cemetery the grey shifted in its seat it was 2am in the morning the homeless man whose home was a phone box was sleeping on his soiled duvet in his phone box bedroom and the night was warm maybe there were some footsteps but they went away the way footsteps often do there was a black cat with only one visible eye on a tree the footsteps went away night was not thinking anything in particular across the city there might have been a solitary cello playing in a dimly lit room a woman in an obscure apartment was having lots of dark pleasure the river jettisoned some human detritus to its bank the homeless man was sleeping in his phone box his head resting on the receiver

the homeless man had stopped dreaming a long time ago he could only remember his dreams from childhood so these were rather memories of dreams in his mind in his sleep his mind heard a sound and the homeless man thought he might be dreaming once again but he was not dreaming he was waking into his telephone box bedroom he was waking at 2am in the morning you see because his plastic pillow was ringing all those nights sleeping with silence not one call but now the phone was ringing the homeless man made himself more upright and thought a moment about what to do because the phone was ringing in his home he could go back to sleep not to dream but to sleep and ignore the phone but the phone was ringing perhaps the ringing would pass and then he would go back to sleep anyway but the phone was ringing at 2am in the morning in his transparent telephone box opposite the cemetery and the man looked around at the night all around him dark motionless trees and the phone rang and the homeless man answered

there was a silence

hello said a voice

the homeless man said nothing

hello said a voice once more

hello said the homeless man

oh good you are there said a voice

the homeless man thought that the voice was neither male nor female was neither high- nor low-pitched it seemed like a transmigration of words through impressions in his mind like when you dream and there are feelings preceding every seen event that in turn provoke a feeling a constant impending dread in pursuit of itself unwordable sadness

who is this? said the homeless man

may I speak to the householder? said a voice

no goodbye said the homeless man

oh perhaps I have the wrong number sorry I must be mistaken is this not the transparent telephone box by the cemetery said a voice

yes it is said the homeless man

and are you not the homeless man with dark skin and no beard who lives in the transparent telephone box with sullied duvet and meagre possessions? said a voice

the homeless man was silent for a moment and then he said yes I am that is me

ah excellent then you are the very person with whom I wish to speak said a voice

who is this what do you want it’s 2am in the morning how do you know who I am said the man he was scared

calm down said a voice all in good time I will tell you all you need to know soon enough said a voice

tell me who you are said the homeless man

who I am? said a voice why is this so important to you?

tell me or I’ll put the phone down said the homeless man

all right said a voice put the phone closer to your ear

the homeless man put the phone closer to his ear

closer press it tight said a voice

the homeless man pressed the phone tightly against his ear

there was a silence

the homeless man felt as though he were dreaming once more as if he were a child again and there was open space and the colour of the taste of green he felt as though he were about to expand beyond the tininess of his rectangular home towards the kind of infinity that is only conceivable in the black behind closed eyes before falling into sleep then he heard or saw or felt or became the words

MAYBE GOD MAYBE NOT

the homeless man dropped the phone and fainted

when the homeless man woke up into his transparent telephone box the day had already established itself as bright afternoon and he awoke to a hard knocking on his glass front door there was a big man with a beard and light skin in a fluorescent jacket standing outside he was angry and shouting colourful words at the homeless man he opened the door and fell out onto the street at the feet of the angry fluorescent man the homeless man had a headache the fluorescent man said to the homeless man clear all of your dirty smelly shit out of here we have work to do inside but this is my home said the homeless man through his headache this is a transparent telephone box said the fluorescent man and I am a transparent telephone box workman so clear your dirty smelly shit soiled duvet and meagre possessions out of here we have work to do the homeless man obeyed the fluorescent man and disobeyed his headache he moved all of his meagre possessions to the refuge of a shady porch of an apartment block opposite the homeless man sat watching fluorescence in motion with a sore head after disassembling the phone box next door reducing it to rubble the fluorescent man brought more fluorescent men with strange tools to the homeless man’s home a big lorry blocked the homeless man’s view of the works the homeless man who lived in a telephone box  was scared and sad he did not know where he would go to live in the daytime or where he would sleep at night where he would keep his soiled duvet or meagre possessions his headache was too painful he fell asleep on his soiled duvet outside the apartments

the homeless man woke again in the shady porch being kicked by an elderly man with light skin and a moustache he gathered his meagre possessions and moved out of the way he noticed that his headache had gone and he thought he might have remembered something like a dream he was unsure

across the road the lorry and fluorescent men had brightly vanished the homeless man could hardly believe to see his home still standing in all its glass glory the homeless man ran across the street with his meagre possessions and soiled duvet to the transparent telephone box where he lived and threw himself inside crying tears of some kind like when you think something terrible is happening but then it doesn’t happen you know when he was inside he saw that there was no longer a phone inside the phone box the phone had gone there was no longer a phone in the homeless man’s home a young girl and her mother walked past the homeless man’s phoneless phone box home  in the sunshine and the homeless man smiled and waved at the girl and the girl waved back and the mother grabbed the girl’s arm and hurried them away

several weeks passed the man who lived in the transparent box by the cemetery continued to smile and wave at the passers-by and some looked scared but most smiled and waved back at him a young couple living in an apartment further down the street would regularly pass and reciprocate his gestures after waking one morning from a dream about riding a wild horse across a dusty open plain the man in the box smiled and waved to the young couple who would speak at a dinner party that evening of the man who lives on their street and whose duvet was looking cleaner these days

 


Oliver Newman is a graduate of English and French from Warwick University. He has lived and worked in Paris both as a freelance writer and as a teacher to disadvantaged youth. Presently he is based in London, and is a part-time student of Oxford University’s Creative Writing MSt. programme alongside various writing projects with friend and illustrator, George Greaves.

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