Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Robert L Fielding

It seemed as if Old Rimbant had always been there just inside the door of the
market hall. He had lost both legs, and he sat on a little trolley, holding out
his cracked, white cup to the shoppers as they hurried out of the cold and rain
into the warm building. It too, had been there as long as anybody could
remember, and just inside the door, sat Old Rimbant. Nobody knew how or when he
had lost his legs, nor could they remember him when he had two good legs, and
was able to walk into the Victorian market hall. Nobody knew very much about Old
Rimbant because nobody ever spoke to him. The shoppers dropped coppers into his
cup as they passed, but they never stopped to ask him how he was.
The market workers, passing to empty their buckets of water as they cleaned the
floor after the day's work, were the only people who ever spoke to Old Rimbant,
and their talk was mainly to cheer themselves up during their drudgery, for
which they got paid very little. They would ask him questions that didn't need
answers, for they had no time to listen, nor were they interested in his
''How arta this mornin?'' they said to him. ''Bet you're glad you don't 'ave to
do this, owd lad.'' They humoured him with mindless froth.
''Whato Owd Rimbant,'' they would say as they passed him, ''must be nice just
sitting there.'' But they would give him nothing in the way of conversation,
except to ask him if he wanted shoving anywhere, or if he wanted his cup filling
with tea.
He was thought by many to be surly and humourless, and the people of the town
mostly imagined him to be embittered and angry with his lot, and so they avoided
speaking to him. As they dropped coppers into his dirty cup, the shoppers rarely
thought about him and the bitterness and frustration that had been whelling up
inside him since a shell, or whatever it was, had taken his legs from him in
1915 .Nobody knew anything about him, and nobody cared. The market workers
looked after him, but didn't really know him. Like familiar scenery or an old
face, he was looked at and passed without really being regarded or considered at
The first time I met him was when my father had taken me to buy some wire
netting for our rabbit hutches. A dog had recently got in under the fences, and
two rabbits lay with their throats ripped out before we knew anything was wrong.
After we had been to the ironmongers, I waited with the wire netting just inside
the door of the market, while my father had a couple of pints of beer in the
Market Hotel across the road.
Everytime my father and I went to the ironmongers, for some tacks to hammer in
the tarpaulin which flapped in the wind, or for some more wire to keep stray
dogs out, I would be left in the entrance to the market, next to Old Rimbant.
At first, I didn't like to speak to him. I was a bashful lad, and I didn't like
looking at the two stumps of his legs. I remember thinking his face was hard,
and sort of mean, and I wondered how he went to the toilet, or even if he went
at all.
His way of speaking to me was a bit severe at first, but as I went back again
and again, waiting for my father, his voice grew somehow softer. He asked me my
name, where I lived, and how old I was, and gradually I became less afraid of
him, and asked him questions about himself, and so we slowly became friends.
After four or five visits, and when my father began to stop a bit longer in the
Market Hotel, I found the courage to ask him about his legs. I pointed down at
the two stumps in front of him. His answer was short, as if he wanted to get it
over quickly. He saw me look down at my feet and nodded at me, smiling at my
shyness as he spoke.
''Dar-nelles did 'em for me,'' he said,pausing in the middle of the last word,
maybe it was two words, with his mouth open as if he had swallowed a letter or a
sound, and then he said something that sounded like Hillten.
I never told anyone what Old Rimbant had said to me as I waited for my father in
the entrance to the market hall. It hardly occurred to me to mention it. I
thought it was a secret, and so I never told anybody.
I thought about what he told me, and often went to sleep with the strange words
still on my lips. The words Dar-nelles and Hillten and the two stumps of his
legs frightened me to sleep clutching the blankets over my head. I couldn't get
beyond those words, and he never said anything else, he just repeated them over
and over again, so that I never asked him again.
As my father got stocked up with the things he needed, we went to the town
centre less and less, and I stopped thinking about the old man with the two
stumps for legs. The words he had uttered thickly to me as the shoppers rushed
past us hardly stayed in my memory, but from time to time they came back into my
head, so that I never really forgot them. When I remembered the two strange
words my mind felt closed, and grey images clouded my head. I imagined
malevolent beings, that were like the trolls I had heard of in far off lands.
I thought of the old man getting torn apart by great grey animals that had no
pity on human creatures. I wondered what things could be so callous as to tear a
man's legs from him above the knees, to leave him to live the rest of his life
sitting on a trolley begging his neighbours for a crust of bread.


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