Two men walk around my hometown every day. One is tall, the other slightly shorter, their dress code is business casual. They carry nothing, they stop at no doors. They simply walk. And annoy the hell out of me because I can't figure out why.
"Jehovah's Witnesses," Jack suggested.
"I've walked past them 2 to 3 times a week for the last year and I've never seen them stop at a house. Not once. If they're Jehovah's Witnesses then they're slacking on the job," I explained.
He then proposed that they were walking to get their lunch but I had seen them at various times of the day in various parts of town so this didn't add up either.
"Maybe they're wondering the same thing about you," he offered. But I knew they weren't because I didn't have a mystery. I was simply going to the Post Office. They, on the other hand, never appeared to be going anywhere in particular. More to the point, each time I passed them I stared at them with a look of unconcealed confusion brimming in my eyes. They never looked at me with any confusion. They knew that they were the mysterious ones.
A few times I've considered following them or simply asking them but social etiquette and the desire to not get arrested have prevented me. And then last week I cracked it. I waited until I was at dinner with Jack and my mother to reveal my solution.
"Shoe testers!" I announced triumphantly. They looked at each other blankly. "It makes perfect sense," I argued. "They walk and walk and walk, they never stop anywhere, they don't take anything with them. They are those people who test shoes to see how many miles they can walk before the soles break down and stuff."
Jack and my mother were not so convinced that 'those people who test shoes' was a real thing but I was undeterred. Firstly, I didn't see them having any better ideas, and secondly, it wasn't the first time that a theory of mine had been challenged.
The first time was 15 years ago as I sat on a windowsill on the third floor of my house as it was burning down around me. I looked down at the street below which was uncharacteristically deserted. My street which was normally bustling with cars and people and dogs was completely empty. The one time that I could really have used a car or a person or a dog and none were available to me. This couldn't have been just a coincidence, something must have happened. Maybe there was an evacuation and the authorities had a list of all the people who would be at home and so they didn't come to my house because the list told them that my mother would be at work and that I would be at school only I wasn't at school because I was on study leave but I had been moved up a year at school and so technically I wasn't supposed to be on study leave I was supposed to be at school and if the list didn't know that I had been moved up a year it would have expected me to be at school and that's why the authorities didn't come for me when they evacuated the street. It all made sense. Until Harry across the road appeared in his doorway and my theory was challenged. (In fact, my theory was later quashed entirely but that doesn't mean I'm going to give up on my shoe tester theory. Right until proven wrong, I always say.)
"Harry, my house is burning down," I stated matter-of-factly. Harry smiled and waved. My distress signal was clearly not distressed enough so I tried again with more urgency. "Harry, my house is burning down and you need to get Mary and ask her to call the fire brigade!" Harry had previously suffered two strokes which left him with long term injury. His speech was severely affected and he could communicate only with sounds, he had no use of his right arm and was able to walk by dragging his right leg along behind him. I watched as he looked up at the roof (the flames which had been steadily engulfing the back of the house must have at that moment come into view) and comprehension flooded his face. As he limped back towards his house to alert his wife I pondered this strange turn of events: the sad consequence of his stroke was to become my greatest stroke of luck.
When Harry lost the power of speech, I think it compelled him to find another way to connect with the world. Every day he stands in his porch and he waves at families on the school run or greets commuters on their way to and from work or cheers on joggers or sometimes yells angrily at certain neighbours for reasons that we have never been able to fathom. Because of his stroke, he is now a bigger member of the community than he ever was before. Because of his stroke, he appeared in his porch that day, as he did every day, and was able to sound the alarm.
A few moments later Mary emerged from the house to let me know that the fire engines were on their way. I looked back once again at the door which was so valiantly struggling to keep out the smoke and flames that ravaged beyond it and thought to myself, "They'd better be quick about it." ... to be continued.