The Standing Man
‘They’re out there now’.
‘Day and night’, he said.
‘Standing’, she said.
He said the place name again.
The sound of the words brought the images of men and women gathering, shouting, calling for change.
‘One man started it’, she said.
‘He is there, in the middle of things, immovable’, he said. ‘Unflinching, regardless of what is going on.’
‘Do you think more people will join him?’ She asked.
‘You can never know’, he said.
‘That would be a sight.’
‘Not marching, standing, he said.’
‘People around the world, standing in protest. Looking for recognition.’
‘We could do it now’, he said.
The wind rattled the window in its frame. They sat, both of them, looking at the computer screen, searching for articles and images of the man.
‘What does it mean to us? He asked. As citizens of the United Kingdom, of Europe.’
‘It means the world is changing.’
‘And we can watch it as it changes.’
The laptop buzzed with potential energy. A network to anywhere. News from the other side of the planet, streamed into the living room. The pair of them sat, fixed to the screen, desperate for more worldly information. They eschewed everything out there for Istanbul. For Taksim Square.
She was wearing a red dress. He wore a white shirt and jeans. They were motionless and confined. Complicit in their fixation.
‘Where do they draw the line, these days, between news and sensitive information?
‘It’s a fine line’, he said.
‘Should we even be talking about it?’ She asked.
‘You mean we should just watch’, he said becoming animated. ‘Because I’m fine with that actually. The only problems come with logistics. I’d be concerned for the cameraman. He would deserve acclaim, he is standing there too right?’
‘I mean, should we be watching? Is our presence, here, effecting proceedings?’
‘Of course it is. What do you think I’m doing? We are shifting the route of history.’
‘By viewing’, she said.
He looked at her.
‘I prefer it when you say watching’, he said. ‘We are not privileged. There is privilege in viewing. Like we put ourselves on some kind of platform.’
‘You are funny.’
‘It’s not a laughing matter.’ He smiled. They both smiled.
The trees moved outside the window.
‘Do you think about the cameraman, then? When you are watching?
‘Because he is there too’, she said. ‘He is present. In Istanbul. With a piece of technology on his shoulder. Technology from another country, disseminating to another country.’
‘Just watch’, he said. ‘You are thinking too much. It ruins the impact. He paused. ‘The world just changed. I was there when it happened.’
They paused and both looked around their furnished room. They were trying to ascertain their position in the unwieldy, uncompromising space they call the universe.
‘The news is a liability’, he said, ‘it always has been’.
‘It’s complex’, she said, smiling.
‘Other countries will see him. They will all be standing soon. There will be no stopping them.’
‘In their droves’, she said.
‘But what for, you know, this has to be taken into account. Anyone can stand, but to stand for something, that’s what really counts.’
‘He’s standing for peace’, he said raising his voice, ‘against oppression and misrepresentation’.
‘Oh, peace, great’, she said. ‘We can all do that, right? What actually motivated him? That’s what I want to know.’
‘Peace’, he said, repeating himself. ‘He wants change.’
She looked at him, focussing on the computer, leaning forwards as though if he got closer to the screen the information would reach him quicker. His skin was wrinkled and heavy. Not like it used to be, she thought.
‘I want to know what it was’, she said, ‘what it was that made him get up from his chair in his living room, what it was that made him say this is enough.’
A pause over took the room, the street, swamped the neighbourhood as they considered this. The origin of his thinking. The standing man. What had compelled him to move from his house, to thread through the streets of Istanbul to Taksim Square and stay there? Did he doubt it, did he consider in the time it took to get to the square, backing out of the act? Thank God he didn’t, he thought. In his legacy he would never move.
‘How do you align intelligence internationally? He asked. Because that’s what they need to do. Agreements have to be made.’
‘Does it remain intelligence?’
They both sat there and thought about this issue. The management of censorship in globalised times. Shifting powers and crumbling economies. International relations warping into strained positions.
‘It kind of makes the history of espionage look like people thrashing around in the dark doesn’t it?’
‘Contemporary media, the great leveller.’
‘Governments look fragile.’
‘They always looked fragile,’ he said.
She ignored him.
‘Like they don’t know what they are doing, because now, the people can communicate.’
‘This has changed’, he said.
‘This is the great change of our lifetime. That people can communicate.’
They both started to nod their heads in agreement.
‘I can’t stop thinking about him, he said. He is there all the time.’
‘He has gone now’, she said.
‘It doesn’t matter. His image is still with me. A deeply carved afterimage forged on my retina. His figure cuts against the sky, our sky. It was a statement for mankind, not just for the people of the Middle East.’
‘He’s gone, she said again. Come back to bed.’
He raised a glass of water to his lips and took a sip. Outside of the window the moon lay in a crescent casting down yellow and white flashes across the streets of London.
‘Can you see him now?’
‘I can picture him.’
‘He communicates’, he said.
‘Without saying anything, he communicates.’
They were both lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. They had the visuals pressed into their eyes.
‘Governments have to listen.’ He said.
She sighed and rolled her eyes.
‘His skin looked yellow.’
‘It was night time’, she said. ‘The lights were on in Taksim Square.’
‘The geography is important to me. Say it again,’ he said, ‘please.’
‘Why didn’t they call him the silent man?’ She asked.
‘He stood. We have discussed this.’
‘But the silence,’ she said. ‘The silence seems to imply more, to say more about peace.’
They blinked as moonlight beamed between the curtains.
‘I don’t normally like imitators’, he said. ‘I can easily lose interest.’
‘There is power in numbers,’ she said. ‘He is peaceful.’
They agreed on this.
She looked at her husband lying next to her. Her interest was wavering. Doubt was permanently nearby.
‘There’s footage’, she said loudly, so that he could hear.
It was the following day.
‘What happens. Describe it to me.’ He was making tea in the kitchen.
‘He’s stood there. He’s wearing a white shirt.’
‘It’s business, of course he is.’
There was a natural break as she watched and he finished making the drinks.
‘Police arrived at 2am and detained the protesters’, she said
‘Detained!’ He said. ‘Protesters! They’re just standing there for Christ’s sake.’ He stirred in a sugar, furiously clinking the spoon against the ceramic.
‘It’s all about context,’ she said, attempting to see the other side.
He stopped dead in the doorway and looked at her.
‘This isn’t how we talk’, he said.
He sat back down and they watched the footage again and again until she stood up and started performing chores. He stayed there, fixed to the sofa.
She went out and did some shopping, leaving him to the news-stream that had occupied so much of their time on the previous day. She shut her eyes as she heard the lock click and the wind swept against her face in a cold breeze.
She walked to the end of the road, her heels clicking against the paving stones. On the high-street she saw people, weaving and threading along the pavements. She went into the pharmacy and bought some throat tablets from the counter. The fluorescent lights shone down on all of the white boxes behind the till, each of them filled with ways to change the body, to make the body better. Individual answers to worldly problems, made through years of research in enclosed laboratories. Zopiclone, Victoza, Seroquel. Attention to detail, beyond anything the eye can see. The Indian Pharmacist took her money and smiled and she slipped the purchase into her bag before going back outside. She carried on walking, past shop fronts and cafes. The busyness of the world was confrontational. It was more than information. It was impactful, she thought. She moved through the market, past stacked fruits and vegetables, past greetings cards, past piles of paperback books. She stopped intermittently to purchase things. Out of the hubbub, she heard someone call her name.
‘Linda’. It was a woman’s voice. ‘Linda, hi.’
She turned and looked and saw a face that she recognised. It was Julie.
‘Oh, hi,’ she said, somewhat dazed.
‘I thought it was you.’
They smiled at one another.
‘How are things?’
‘Okay’, she replied.
Julie was holding a bag of plants, red flowers jutting out around the brim of the plastic.
‘For the garden’, she said.
‘They’re lovely’, replied Linda.
People were brushing past either side of them as they talked.
‘Any news?’ Asked Julia.
‘You know’, she said. ‘What we were talking about.’
‘I don’t know’, she said. ‘He’s good to me, you know, most of the time. We get along.’
‘We’ve been going through a good spell’, she said. ‘It’s not like there’s anything wrong with him.’
They paused and smiled, tilted their heads as an awkward lull in conversation consumed them both.
‘Well, you know. If you want to talk’, said Julia.
Linda nodded and smiled.
‘Maybe you should come around for dinner. The two of you.’
Linda was tired and regretting ever confiding in Julia. She didn’t even know her that well. Julia’s teeth were a little yellow but she had a pretty face, thought Linda.
‘Let me know about dinner’, said Julia, before wandering off, disappearing back into the busy throng of the marketplace.
Linda stood there in her trousers and t-shirt, feeling less engaged and more dowdy than ever. Looking like she did she would never leave the spot, let alone her husband.
She returned to the house. The smell of musty air, motionless space occupied the room. She placed her carrier bags full of food down on the table in the kitchen and they sagged into helpless shapes. She turned the radio on low and started moving things into cupboards. Tins and packets put into familiar places. She put the bags into the recycling. She went back into the living room.
‘The world is in here’, he said. His first words to her.
‘Listen to yourself,’ she said.
‘We are global citizens,’ he said.
‘You don’t even go outside,’ she said.
He glared at her and let out a deep sigh.
She turned her back and moved through to the kitchen.
It was days later that the conversation with Julia recurred in her mind. Today she felt different, active, as though she could change something. As though she could change the world. It was hers for the taking, she thought.
She stood in the doorway and looked at her husband hunched in his usual position. He hadn’t said her name in weeks. They hadn’t made love in longer. She thought of the dinners she had made for him while he had been working on articles. Sometimes they got published, sometimes they didn’t. He acted like he was in charge, but in charge of what? She thought.
Her mood accumulated and nothing changed on his part. She moved and he sat. She cooked and he watched. She rang her mother and he jotted down notes, names, dates. It seemed that their behaviour was stuck.
She knew it was in her power to change things. She looked at him and repeated the word to herself. Power.
The following night he sat, fixated as usual, observing the flickering screen. He watched and shook his head as feeds updated. He dipped his hand into a bag of crisps, lifted a can of lemonade up to his mouth and slurped, gulped down the clear fizzy liquid. He blinked away the scrolls of text that blighted his eyes, blinked them into insignificance.
‘Lives are on the line’, he said, smiling.
He turned a page on the newspaper that lay on the table in front of him.
‘The news is a language everyone speaks. A currency for the connected.’
He laughed loudly to himself and looked up.
‘Linda’, he said.
His voice echoed, reverberating around the white walls of the flat. In wide eyed astonishment, full comprehension of his own small world, he stood up.