The crowd behind me

The other day, when I was feeling unusually open, something peculiar happened to me. And because it had and has and I think always will have great consequences, I am happy to share it with you.

The crowd behind me

I was walking down a lighted shopping street. It was not busy at all and I had nothing in particular going on. After walking for a while, I got the feeling that someone was watching me. I stopped and looked around, but didn’t see anything in particular. Yet that feeling remained and it got even stronger. So I stopped a little further on and looked around again – sleuthing, this time. I looked into stores and at the windows of the houses above; I looked back again and saw no one looking at me, but I did notice that there was still the same woman walking behind me that I had seen last time. She was wearing a hat. I decided to pay attention to see if she was following me. I thought it was a bit over the top myself: as if I were in a spy movie, but I couldn’t resist either.

I turned a corner and waited a little further on in a porch. And yes, there the same woman came around the corner, then stood right in front of me. I confronted her, ‘Um, ma’am, you may find it strange that I am addressing you like this, but I noticed that you have been walking behind me for some time, while it is very quiet on the street. You see, that’s why I noticed it. Also, I had the feeling that you were looking at me emphatically, is that right?

She looked a little embarrassed, but answered anyway, ‘Yes sir, I can’t deny that. I have been following you for a long time, for years. You see, I was confused for a while and lived on the streets. People avoided me or laughed at me because I was singing or shouting children’s songs very loudly. You came along then and took me by the arm, remember? You went with me to a bench and talked to me as if you were a friend. I have belonged to you ever since.’

Full of amazement, I heard her and looked at her again. I vaguely remembered that I had once sat down on a bench with a screaming woman, but this was extremely curious. What did the woman have to do with me? I said, ‘Yes, all well and good, but surely something like that is not so important that you follow someone for years? I can’t believe it, otherwise I would have noticed it before.’

‘Excuse me sir, but there is also something different about you today. You look very receiving.’

‘Receiving, huh? What do you mean ma’am, what’s that word?’

‘Yes, you were always very outgoing, but not inward. Or, how should I put it: you didn’t look into yourself, you didn’t look after yourself.’

This sounded rather hazy to me, but I thought there could be some truth in it. Anyway, it was a strange day today. Even when I got up, there had been something different, which I could not interpret. I would actually like to sit on a bench with this woman, and why not. I suggested it and she agreed. There was a small park nearby where we stood and we settled there.

‘There are many more, by the way,’ began the woman, whose name appeared to be Rose.

‘What are you saying? More what?’ I exclaimed. From strangeness I stumbled over the words.

‘Many more people running after you, belonging to you,’ she said in a steady voice, as if to make it clear to me that it was a fact. ‘Just look, there they are.’

I looked in the pointed direction and saw a whole group of people standing, looking in our direction. It looked like one of those groups doing a city walking tour, but there was no guide. I couldn’t believe that whole mob was standing there for me. One woman walking behind you for years is crazy enough, and it could be that she was just having strange thoughts. But this… In disbelief, I looked from her to the group and then resolutely turned my back on them.

‘I don’t believe you, Rose, that’s ridiculous. Why would all those people run after me?’

‘Because they belong to you, because you once dealt with them. There are many more, by the way, just look.’

I didn’t look. Really, what nonsense. That woman was obviously still confused. Whole herds of people running after me, yeah right!

She grabbed my arm and looked at me very kindly up close. ‘I can imagine that you think there’s something wrong with me, but it’s quite different. First there was actually something wrong with you, that is, you didn’t see much and you didn’t understand anything about life. You just lived on, on autopilot, and only came out of your shell once in a while when something special happened, like on that occasion with me. And in the meantime, you had to deal with a lot of people. Some belong to you now because you did something friendly, but there are also a lot of people you’ve hurt or worse, and they belong to you, too.

I averted my gaze. ‘Yeah yeah, and they all have nothing else to do but run after me all day for sure. Don’t they have jobs and stuff, and families? And you, don’t you have anything better to do?’

She looked happy now: ‘Yes, I have a really nice job. I’m doing really well now. I have a husband and three kids, so I do have something to do. Also, it’s not like we (she pointed to just about every resident in town with a broad arm wave) are all really walking behind you. It’s not the bodies, you see there: it’s the souls.’

Now I looked around anyway. Souls? Masses of people I saw now, hundreds, no thousands. And behind them again whole rows. That couldn’t be? But they were also standing there very unnaturally, in large crowds on the street, all looking my way. Suddenly I didn’t see them anymore. The street was as good as empty. The bench was also empty.

‘Rose!’ I called out. But Rose was nowhere to be seen.

This was such a strange sensation … Rose, the people, and all that Rose had said… I looked at my watch because it seemed to have taken hours, but only a few minutes had passed. I was completely overwhelmed. Was it a daydream, or maybe some kind of vision? Or a hallucination? Or is it all the same thing? I, being so down-to-earth, who always dismissed all vague stories as nonsense. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was too important to forget, and too implausible to take as fact. For nonsense it was too impressive and for a dream too real. Remains the vision… I do think it has something to say to me, indeed, I will probably have to think about it at every encounter, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

I stand up and look around me emphatically. Everything looks very ordinary, and yet everything is different.

It left me with a tendency to look over my shoulder. But I guess that should be taken figuratively.

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Date: February 9, 2023
Author: Amun (Netherlands)
Photo: Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash CCO

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