Monday 11 July 2016

An Absence

The young man who gave this to us died ten years ago this year

Stormboy will be running this week until Thursday. It was actually conceived as a performance piece. Live, it's cast as a lecture of sorts, the slides of a powerpoint behind me. It has at its centre a hole, an absence. A character is never mentioned. A person, someone who matters to the plot, who is central, is not there. One of the performances, someone told me it was like "swallowing bloody barbed wire," and to be honest, that's what it felt like writing it.

I wrote it for Michael.

He's not referenced in it. Nothing in it pertains to him directly.

But. Michael was a friend to many. He was serious, decent, smart, compassionate, kind. In 2005 he went away to work as the trustee for a children's charity in Northern India. He went for six months, came back for a bit and then went for another six months, and in December 2006, he went missing and three days later his body was found in a ditch in Dharamsala, buried under a mound of stones.

No one ever found his killer, as far as I know, although the investigation went on for many years. It sent shockwaves among the people who knew him. It still affects his close friends very deeply. He was loved.

Although I was asked to say a few words at the memorial service in Swansea, where he went to university, I did not know him as well as many. I wasn't one of his best friends, wasn't one of his contemporaries. He came to us for meals, a safe place, someone to talk to. One day, after coming back from Egypt, he gave us the papyrus painting of the Last Supper that still hangs in our dining room; he saw community in our home, he said. It made him think of us. We were flattered.

After he died, he became frozen in our imaginations. His opinions on things, his likes and dislikes, the things he did, the things he said, became stories, mythologised. This is normal. This is what we do. They were attempts to fill the hole he'd left; in fact these things papered the sides of it. He hadn't been seen in Swansea for any length of time for the better part of a year; but his death – and I remember Jen telling me on the street in Uplands, outside the old Blockbuster – made that hole gape open, tore it open.

The fact of an irrevocable absence eats you inside. To know that he was far away and out of contact and alive and well and doing good works was a comfort. To know that he had died in fear and violence, far away, was brutal.

It felt like your heart was about to fall out.

This is the place where this week's fiction comes from. I wanted to express that absence in a piece that otherwise has nothing to do with him. Only a gnawing loss, a gap in the middle of the story. Someone missing, eternally, irretrievably.