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Observing the Unobserved


I was looking for a book on the internet which I read a long time ago. Everything is so expensive today unless you go to charity shops, but then you cannot always buy what you want and their stock is limited. As a rule, I don’t like to borrow books from the library because of the three week limit you have to return the item back, of course, you can renew it but that is a lot of hassle for me. I rather own the book then I won’t have to be rushed.

“The House on the Strand” was the book I was looking for a novel by Daphne du Maurier first published in 1969. I don’t know why I had the notion to read it again, but once something pops into my head I have to carry it out regardless.

So, I decided to visit the town’s library.

I left the house wearing a black suit, black shoes, black socks and also a black hat. Black is my favourite colour because it goes well with my character; I’m serious. I’m intense, secretive, mysterious, stormy, hurt, and above all very bad-tempered.

As I arrived two large glassed doors open automatically and I went in. Surprisingly it wasn’t very busy probably because it had just opened. I approached the escalator stood on one step and took me up slowly. I turned left and went to search under the letter D. I found the section right away, I located Du Maurier’s books but not the one I was looking for. “Typical”, I moaned to myself. I went to a free computer and searched for it. Luckily I found there were few in other libraries so I reserved it.

Before I went downstairs again I went to the coffee bar located opposite the historical area. I had a normal white coffee and a ham and mustard sandwich and read the paper which I bought on my way. By now the library was getting busy. When I finished my coffee and enjoyed the sandwich I went back downstairs, before I went out the doors I stooped and stared around me. The children’s section was now filled with mothers and toddlers sitting, some on their laps others on the carpet enjoying the baby and toddler rhyme group.

The reception was also packed with people, and it was at that moment that something odd came to my mind. I thought what if I stand still there without movement or emotions until the library closes down in about five hours. I thought that would be the reactions of the staff and customers alike? Also, I would have the opportunity to observe and study all type of individuals and their attitudes.

This idea that came in my head in that instance reminded me of the living statues from the street performance in Venice which I had the pleasure of seeing myself. For a moment you’ll think they’re actually statues. They’re painted and dressed all in one colour, stand completely still and for a long time too. You can’t make them laugh or react to you either.

It is a huge task for me to imitate them but if I don’t try I will never succeed. So, I found a place in a corner, crossed hands, steadied my legs and in an instant I became a living statue.

At first, people don’t notice you, they think you’re waiting for someone, but it did not take long before I encountered the first weird scene from a man and a woman. The woman was obese, with scruffy hair and a tight skirt. The man was huge too but not on the same scale as his partner, he was wearing a t-shirt and his arms were full of tattoos. The woman sat down on one of the chairs provided in a corner while the man stood in front of her. She was in a depressed mood.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” the man asked angrily.

“Can you please leave me alone? Get lost. Can you just go away?” she said repeatedly with tears in her eyes. “And take the bloody dog with you too.”

“But he’s your dog!”

“Go away both of you. Go an untie the dog and leave. I want to be left alone. Do you hear me?”


“This is not very nice of you,” told her the man.

“You see. Nobody understands me.”

“What the fuck you’re talking about?” swore the man. “What are you saying?”

“Nobody understands me. No one likes me either. No one.” She cried out loud with people staring at them.

“You know perfectly well that I like you!” defended himself the now embarrassed man.

“That’s not true. You’re always lying to me. It’s one big lie after another. Don’t you think I know that you hate me? No one loves me!”

“I love you,” said nicely, “your dog loves you too and he doesn’t lie because he’s a dog!”

“No, he doesn’t” whispered the woman. “He doesn’t come and sit with me anymore.”

“That’s because you frightened him!”

“You see you admit it! Now go away and don’t come back, both of you.”

The man started to exit. “It would be much easier if I did not exist anymore! That way you don’t have to feel guilty about me.”

The man walked slowly back to her. “Now that really hurts. You stabbed just right in here!” saying while he thumped his heart. “You always shatter my feelings.”

Instant silence broke between and the man went closer to her and put his hand round her shoulder. “Don’t forget I’ve put a roast in the oven”

“What did you say?” she asked.

“A roast in the oven!”

“What kind of roast?” she asked.

“A leg of lamb!”

She struggled up to her feet. “Let’s go home then because I feel a bit peckish!” while she took him by the arm and left.

By now some people observed me and stopped staring at me, but I did not move, not even a twitch. For how long I can keep this up I haven’t got a clue.

As a man was about to leave another came in and stopped in front of him, shook hands and walked to one side out of the way of the entrance quite close to where I was standing.

The man with the glasses and an expensive suit started to talk.

“Yes, I still practice, because I’m a psychiatrist it doesn’t mean I have to retire early. I wish I had thought. Do you know I have been more than twenty-seven years practising and to tell you the truth I am completely worn out and had enough of people? Month after month, year after year I had to listen to patients who are satisfied and confused with their lives who want to have fun. I tell you they want to have fun while they take all the enjoyment out of me, and they expect me to help them regain it. My life isn’t exactly much fun either. People are very demanding and that is what I have concluded after all these years and I stick by it. They demand to be happy but all the while they are egocentrics, self-centered, greedy and outrageous. Sometimes I feel like choking them to death or rather more subtlety more honest with them. I would like to tell them that they are simply arrogant, selfish and bloody mean too. After spending hour after hour of therapy, trying to make a callous person, happy, is an uphill struggle. There is no point in trying. I could not do it. Do you know what I do these days? I prescribe anti-depressant pills, the stronger the better. Well, that’s the way I feel about it.”

Without waiting for an answer from his baffled man he shook his hands again and left with the other man with his mouth open.

In that instant, a boy of about seven ran away from his mother and came and stood in front of me. First, he started to talk to me and when I did not answer him, he started to put his tongue out at me, not satisfied he proceeded to kick me on my legs. His mother came running and apologised to me and when |I did not answer her either she gave me a mouthful but that didn’t stop her smacking the boy on his bottom ending up screaming so loud that she had to take him out of the building.

After these two episodes, all went quiet. Since there were not a lot of people in I was going to relax a bit but I changed my mind quickly as I was determined to see my experiment through. I was standing there for an hour and surprisingly none of the employees bothered about me. Either because they were busy with their chores or they are experienced enough to ignore idiots. Let’s face it I was behaving like one. But at that moment I realised I was no longer an observer but was more of a reflecting being; I have ceased to be aware of myself. I exist only in that quiet, steady thrill that is so unlike any excitement that I have ever known. It is not entirely possible to clarify without observing, as it is not possible to observe without explaining. Standing there oblivious of anyone that passed me seemed boring except for the shenanigans I have encountered. I am also aware that I needed the toilet desperately. I regret having Jerusalem artichokes last night for my supper. They say if you have to go, you have to go. I ran out of the library like a cat on fire and walked fast for about five minutes before I located the public conveniences. I went right in a found a free cubicle, wiped clean the toilet seat, pulled down my trousers quickly, and sat down staring at the ceiling. I regretted that I had to leave the library and not to stick to my plan. Where I was I could not observe but I could listen easily.

“You know, I cannot understand my family at all,” said a voice.

“What do you mean?” replied another.

“Only I found out my youngest brother is gay.”

“There is nothing wrong with that is there? Are you surprised?”

“No not really my older brother is gay too!”

“You look devastated!” The man said trying to console him. “I wonder if anyone in your family likes women?”

Then I heard the man crying. “Yes, my wife does that’s why I’m devastated, she is dating my sister.”

“I’m really sorry about that,” said his friend, keeping it in the family eh?” And with that, the voices faded away.

Now that was a piece of gossip that I did not expect to hear and realised that the quick detour to the toilets was worthwhile after all. I decided to go back home and on my way to the bus stop I stopped and looked at a young short plump woman standing holding a placard which read, “ I am not a busker as such, I cannot dance, I cannot play any instruments and I cannot sing. I am deaf and mute and all I can do is stand here holding this placard. Please give generously!”

As I smiled I thought that was original, I pulled a pound coin from my trousers pocket and threw it in the hat by her feet and kept walking to the bus stop.

I had to wait fifteen minutes for the bus so I sat down beside a man and a woman.

“We couldn’t ask for a better day, could we? There isn’t a cloud in the sky. I love this time of year.” Said the woman.

“So do I” replied the man in a brown suit.

“The daffodils are beautiful, aren’t day?”

“They certainly are. Though I heard on the radio we are bound for more rain in the weekend.” Continued the man.

“This bus must be running late. How long have you been waiting?” she asked.

The man looked at his watch. “About ten minutes. I had to come out and vote for the council election.”

“Oh what a coincidence, so did I? Who did you vote for, if I’m not intruding?”

“Not at all. I voted for myself who else?” said the man proudly. The woman stood up as her bus was coming. “Oh good” she exclaimed. “It looks like we won’t be waiting any longer.”

“Great,” said the councillor. “I like to read books when I’m travelling. Do you? I like to read Jeffrey Archer, do you?”

“No not at all, I hate politicians,” she remarked.

“So do I” smiled the councillor.

So a lady and a prospective councillor an example of how not to pollute the air.

Finally, my bus came and I boarded, sitting behind a middle age very blonde woman. From her looks, I made her be a foreigner and did not speak very good English. Parallel to her seat, an afro teenager started to speak to her in a hostile manner. “What’s your problem?” he asked her with rage.

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“He was very angry indeed! “You keep staring at me. You better keep your eyes in your own business.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just I’ve never seen many Afrikaans. She apologised. “I’m from Finland.”

“You don’t have Afrikaans where you’re from?”

“No, not a lot? Are they all like you/”

The afro was very pissed off by now and very defensive. “What do you mean?

If his eyes could kill she’d be dead by now.

“So beautiful!” she remarked.

The teenager did not expect that answer and was mystified. “I don’t know about that”, he said shyly.

“My name is Helleena!”.

The man dropped his anger and went to sit next to her. They talk and laughed all the way until I got off the bus.

My faith in humanity had been restored.

Observing the unobserved was truly an experience; I shall do it again one day!





Copyright © Alfred Vassallo 2018

Author: Alfred Vassallo
Alfred Vassallo born 11th April 1956 in Sliema, Malta Alfred (known as Freddie) produced and directed several plays as a semi-professional. He self-published many poetry books and also written for the theatre. Lately, he self-published "LIVING WITH MY PAST" a personal account. All books can be heard on youtube.
My External Website (External Website Opens in New Window)


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