RETURN TO SALISBURY
Three months had passed since my ‘escape’ from Salisbury. And now I was back. When I got off at the train station my heart was beating more wildly than usual. Besides that I missed my beard and the old clothes I’d been wearing three months before. In addition to these and other apprehensions I was still possessed by what I had seen and experienced recently, in the aggressive atmosphere of New York. If before I complained about my loss of innocence, and if after having got to know New York I saw that until then I was "The Innocent”; and if later, back in London, I had arrived at the conclusion that innocence is not lost in one go, we are losing it during the whole of our lives, wherever we are, whether we’re in a big city or in a big field in the countryside. There are people who live heavyweight lives and nevertheless when they are old, at the time of death, they still carry a certain amount of innocence to the grave. But let’s not be preoccupied any longer with innocence or with death, since we are alive and living life.
I felt like an old man, a confused sage, that is, I knew many things – in fact there were so many things that I knew, that I was in a state of mental and vital confusion. And next to that I was feeling very emotional. With everything that had happened to me, my time was being lived – let's say – intensely. My feelings were still alive inside me and the most concrete proof of it all was my uncontrolled heart.
I nodded a greeting to the old man who works at the train station gate, where the passengers pass. The old man recognised me and through his eyes I felt something close to a welcome.
I went down the street that goes from the train station to the city centre, I crossed the bridge over the River Avon and stopped a little to see the new waters that passed. It seemed to me that the Avon had changed its style. From the crystal clear waters of autumn only the white swans remained. The waters of the river were now muddy, silted up (because of rain) and in a torrent. I went up the road, passed through the town centre, past the little ‘heavy bar’ and I remembered – with a certain yearning, 'saudade' – Zé Vicente, who used to like that bar. I walked through the streets of the centre and I went to pay a visit to my friend the Cathedral.
The scene was the same and the only change was on account of the lighting in winter. The trees looked bare to me, apart from one enormous tree (I never learned its name) in the Cathedral Close. That tree was always green, always. I left by the gate to the Cathedral Close and came out at Saint Anne Street.
I reached number 63. I struggled a little before knocking on the door, but I ended up knocking. At the same time I could almost hear the beat of my own Brazilian heart, emotional and excited, ‘sambacopado’.
The door was opened by a smiling stranger. Beautiful, chubby and friendly, she didn't even ask who I was but was soon showing the way and asking me to come in. I asked her about the people, about Bruce. She didn’t quite understand my way of speaking but she did understand the name "Bríusss" and said he was in the room upstairs. I went quickly through the living room as I followed her up the stairs that led to Bruce's room. The living room was turned upside down. There were many more mugs and cups scattered on the floor than the first time I’d entered the house, three months ago. The first impression, the one on top, on my return, was that a lot of time had passed since my disappearance. I sensed a ‘change’. I went up the stairs and entered the room where Bruce, Derek and John Atkins used to live. Now there was an excess of mattresses piled up together, taking up the entire floor of the room. There were a lot of people in there so that whilst looking for a familiar face I felt lost, not really knowing where I was. Until I saw Bruce in the middle of all those people. I recognised him as soon as I laid eyes on him, exclaiming, "Bruce!!!" though it seemed like he didn't recognise me, not straight away. My exclamation was like ‘over-acting’ in the room – people looked at me astonished. Bruce tried to figure out who it was until at last he almost shouted, "Oh, Bivar, it's you!"
I sat on the floor next to him and we talked. But first I waited for him to finish saying something to three girls and one boy who were at his feet. The three girls were sitting on the floor, legs crossed, and the boy was lying on his stomach with his right hand under his chin. The youngsters smiled at me and I felt at home. There were other kids in the room but from ‘my time’ there was only Bruce left. I asked him, when the time came, how they all were and what had happened to the others. Bruce replied that David Hayward and Andy were still in the house. The others had either moved on to other houses or left Salisbury. But there were many more people living in the house now than in ‘my time’. Roger Elliot, Tony Chivers and some elves continued to frequent the house, more than diligently.
It was now that Roger Elliot appeared; he recognised me at once and even made fun of me when he saw me without my beard. I offered him a box of sweets that I’d brought from New York especially for him, sweets that Mossa had pointed out to me after we’d been to see Mick Jagger's ‘Performance’ together in a New York cinema.The cinema was perfumed by the aroma of Mossa's sweets, and whilst the film was still showing I asked her what those sweets were and she replied, "Aren’t they great for the breath?!" I answered yes and on another day she showed me the place where I could get some like them. Roger Elliot wanted to know what New York was like and I said those same things that everybody says after going to New York: "Disappointing, very violent and aggressive, ugly, interesting in some ways". Roger wanted to know more and I told him more. I was eager to be talking with him, more than I’d spoken to him in ‘my time’. In those days I used to get along with Roger more by looking and by his looking back, and his look was so good that I often felt protected and made safe by his look, and he was the one who called me ‘Bull's Eyes’. Now Roger seemed rather sad. It must be because of winter, I thought. But every now and then he would laugh, because of my unexpected and surprising appearance.
The three girls in the room were called Mary, Sadie and Sarah. And in a way they replaced the irreplaceable Veronica, Julie and Sue, from ‘my time’, three months earlier. The boy was called John Ingleson and he was very friendly and must have been about fifteen years old. He smiled at me all the time and made fun of my face and me with his. Soon after Bruce had to leave with another one from the house, Steve, and yet another from the floor upstairs, Terry (who later I would meet by chance, on the way out of Glastonbury, on the way to London). Terry lived with Maria Luisa, a Portuguese woman who worked as a nurse in a hospital in Salisbury. "You will now have someone here to talk to in your own language'' said Bruce to me, smiling, before leaving with Steve and Terry for another whole night of work at the piston ring factory. Roger Elliot, who never stopped very long anywhere, also went out with the other three. I stayed in the room with the three girls and John Ingleson. Then the girls also left and I stayed with John Ingleson until Tony Legolas arrived, with his guitar, and he could play and sing medieval-sounding songs from the Incredible String Band’s repertoire. I told Tony Legolas that I had met Trip and that she had told me a lot about him. Tony Legolas wanted to know when she was likely to come and I said maybe in two days, on Sunday. While Tony Legolas played and sang for me, John Ingleson took out a blank sheet of paper and a felt-tip pen and began to draw my portrait, asking if I could stay still in one fixed facial position.
“His face is sad”, said John Ingleson to Tony Legolas. Tony did not agree and said, between one and another phrase of the song he was playing and singing, "I wouldn't say sad, I would say – serene”. And that's how my facial expression in Salisbury got to be 'sad and serene', on my return.
Later David Hayward returned from work and we talked together, and he told me that Don had gone to work in Germany, that Veronica was in a town nearby taking care of an old lady who wasn’t well, that John Atkins had been living with his parents for some time, that Penny was pregnant, expecting a child in the next few months and that the girls were knitting and crocheting for the child's little nest, that the house was full of new inhabitants, that a lot had happened since then, some not very serious problems, that Martha (my dear) had disappeared from the map, that Julie had changed her style and was now dressed according to what her parents wanted and was going out with a ‘straight’ boy, that Sue showed up now and then, that Derek had finally gone away from Salisbury, afraid that the Californian Hell's Angels would come and find him there and cause him profound and physical harm, that Roy never appeared any more, and that the ‘customers’ always appeared.
David Hayward went up to his room and I continued in the other room with John Ingleson and Tony Legolas. Soon Mary, Sadie and Sarah came back, with Maureen (who took care of the house and made meals and tea) plus Roger Elliot (bringing sweets this time), Tony Chivers and some elves. And one or two others as well, and suddenly the room was filled with everyone spread out on the mattresses on the floor. Tony Legolas kept playing and singing and was now accompanied by several of the voices present in the room. And so it was on my first night in Salisbury, after running away for three months. Outside it rained non-stop and inside the room it was a pleasant environment, though humid. When it was time to go to bed I was going to go down to the living room with my sleeping bag, but Tony Legolas said I could stay upstairs with them because there was a place in the middle of the mattresses and that I could sleep there instead of Bruce, because he wouldn’t be back till the morning. And the time had come when everyone spaced out on the mattresses. In the middle of the night someone would always wake up excited and talking about something noisily, waking up the others who would complain playfully, argue about nothing, and go back to sleep. Steve came home from the factory in the middle of the night and before going to sleep he talked a lot, complaining about the harshness of the work at the piston-ring factory. Still in the middle of the night he got up and turned on the old record player and started to play ‘Jumpin' Jack Flash’, by the Rolling Stones, definitely waking everybody up. Then everyone slept a bit more whilst I, in a corner, smiled at John Ingleson in another. He was lying on its side with his head raised and supported in his right hand.
“Are you okay?" I asked, quietly.
"I'm alright” replied John Ingleson, "how are you?"
"Alright" I replied. We laughed a little whilst someone amongst the sleepers muttered something in the middle of a dream.
Bruce's mattress was full of loose springs in ways that had me feeling uncomfortably good, as if I had been (and was) in my own home. Nobody in the community complained about the discomfort that was quite a lot – even more now, in winter, without internal heating or anything, except for a fireplace heater that was built into the wall of the living room, on the ground floor. When Bruce arrived in the morning I was awake. I was getting up to give him his place but he said he wasn't going to sleep, that he was going out because he had somethings to do down the road. I offered to keep him company and he said yes. We were walking to the other side of the city where there lived a shoemaker who was making a pair of high-heeled boots for Bruce. On the way he told me that with the money he earned at the piston ring factory he was giving himself permission to get a pair of boots and a record player, because that old record player at the house no longer made a decent sound. As it was so early we had to wait a good while until the little shoe shop opened its doors for another day’s business. Whilst we were waiting for the shoe shop to open, we went to a cafe full of workers who made a few remarks because to them we were just two more of ‘those hippies'. Bruce answered something and we sat down for two cups of tea with milk. Outside it was bitterly cold and it wasn’t good to stay outdoors. When finally the shoe shop opened (it was Saturday morning) the pair of boots that Bruce had ordered wasn't ready yet. On the way back home, Bruce remembered that there was nothing in the house for anyone to have breakfast, and we went into a supermarket where we bought bread, strawberry jam, milk and tea. And when we got home everyone had already woken up. And there was such an up-and-down, in-and-out of the bathroom; some were staying in bed feeling sleepy, others had gone out onto the street without breakfast, and the first regulars at the house had already appeared. And so it was Saturday, all day, until night time. While I was talking to Maria Luisa, Terry's Portuguese partner, the others stood around smiling at us. It was the first time they heard two people talking in that language and the sound and the environment and the situation itself was all very amusing for them. John Ingleson wanted to know the meaning of certain words, such as, obviously, ‘saudade’. And I tried to find a way of explaining to John Ingleson what the word ‘saudade’ means. Bruce would later say to me, "There's going to come a time when there will be no more ‘longing’ and everything will be ‘this moment’". Maureen was lying down feeling very sleepy when someone thought it would be good if we had some tea. I saw that she wasn’t very willing to get up and make tea for everyone and so I volunteered. Then she jumped out of bed and said, "Bivar, you are our guest”.
Trip arrived on Sunday afternoon for a quick visit. She talked with the other girls around, telling them things about the young women in London, how they make themselves up and adorn themselves, how they present themselves, what gets them interested and excited. She spoke of the pop concerts she had been to, of acid trips in the college, of classes she and her friends had given whilst tripping, of happiness and enjoyment that was her new life in the big city. The others all listened, some more or less enthusiastic, others more sceptical and doubtful that Trip would go putting the cart in front of the oxen. She spoke of magic, of the latest records, of the clothes at Kensington Market, oriental perfumes, incense sticks, of fantastic hashish that was turning up in the college, of the strange looks of girls in the college, how she decorated her room, the food she prepared – vegetarian food, everyone in the college ate only vegetarian food, of the figures she saw at Picadilly Circus, at the underground stations and in the underground newspapers, Portobello Road, Swinging London, of all and every discovery of adolescence. I thought she was a little upset with me and I didn't know why. She had been avoiding me since she’d arrived. And by coincidence, when she’d knocked on the door it was me who had answered it. But also I didn't connect with her because she had so many people to see and to talk to in the house, and she wasn’t at all exclusive.
On Sunday afternoon I returned to London. I would always come back to Salisbury, now that I’d been back “for the first time".