Alasdair sat on the metal bench outside the ancient town hall and smoked his roll-up. He watched all the people who passed him by: the harassed-looking young mothers with their wilful, bawling toddlers; the exhausted-looking old ladies who filled their remaining time with regret for days gone; the dejected-looking middle-aged men with whom life had been sparing in its distribution of half-decent opportunities; the bored-looking school kids who stuffed their spotty faces with large portions from polystyrene containers.
Then his gaze became fixed upon a sight all too familiar and depressing in this windy seaside town. A support worker from one of the local residential homes was out with one of her 'clients', a disabled man who sat in his wheelchair staring miserably into the distance as he waited for his 'carer' to finish her conversation with her pal. He only wanted to get back inside, into the warmth where he might be able to regain some feeling in his toes.
“So, whit's doin' at the weekend?” Alasdair heard the support worker ask her friend.
“Nothin' much,” replied the friend. “Alan's asked me to go doon the club wi' him fer the darts, but I'm no sure. He's been seein' that Kelly behind ma back, ye ken, Kelly from doon the road, the hoor.”
“Aye, she wis always a brazen little bitch,” agreed the support worker. “I've kent her since primary.”
“Well, I've got tae go,” said the friend. “I'm meetin' Paul in the bar, an' ye ken whit he's like if he's kept waitin'.”
“Paul!” laughed the support worker. “You're no tellin me you're seein' Paul as well! I could tell ye a thing or two aboot Paul, so I could!”
“Aye, well, it'll have tae wait. I'll catch up wi' ye!” And the friend headed towards the dingy hotel across the street.
The support worker looked down unenthusiastically at the man in the wheelchair. She did not say anything to him, but resumed pushing, keeping an eye out for more acquaintances to stop and blether with. She was - Alasdair considered - probably in her mid-twenties. She wore a pair of tight jeans that emphasised the roundness of a large arse and, underneath a denim jacket, a pink T-shirt through which he could make out her nipples. Her mousy hair was tied in a pony tail. Alasdair watched her departure with a feeling in which disgust mixed with anger.
An elderly lady sat down next to him, clutching her leather handbag closely. She followed Alasdair's gaze. “It must be awful to be like that,” she said.
“Mm,” agreed Alasdair. He felt pretty sure that they were not thinking about the same person. Having finished his roll-up, Alasdair got up. He smiled at the elderly lady and crossed the road, wondering to himself how long it would be before the new greengrocer's would go out of business.
As he entered the newsagent's, the grey-haired woman behind the counter turned and regarded him with suspicion. Then she resumed her conversation with the wee balding gent in an anorak about how the town had been going downhill since all these incomers had started arriving.
Alasdair searched the counter for a copy of the Herald but could not see one in its usual space. He decided to wait. After about three minutes, the grey-haired woman said to the wee balding man, “Just a minute, Sandy...” and turned to Alasdair. “Were you wanting something?” she addressed him.
“Um,” faltered Alasdair, “I was wondering if you've got any Heralds left? Just… there don't seem to be any more copies on the counter…”
The grey-haired woman shook her head. “I'm sorry, son, I can't understand a word you're saying. What is it you're after?”
“Never mind,” said Alasdair, and left the shop. The grey-haired woman shrugged, and resumed her favourite topic.
At the bus stop outside the bar into which the support worker's pal had disappeared, there was only one other person waiting, another old lady. Alasdair considered that this was likely to mean either one of two things. Either his bus had come early - which would have been unlikely but, with the perversity of public transport, not as unlikely as to have been impossible - or there simply weren't very many people wanting this particular bus. For a Thursday lunchtime, he reflected, this would have been unusual. He thought about the matter for a minute and then decided that he would ask.
“Excuse me, please,” he addressed the old lady. “Do you know if the bus has been?”
The old lady fixed him with a look of pity. “Whit a shame,” she said. “Oor Sadie's Billy was like you. He died, of course.” She reached into one of her bulging shopping bags and produced a bar of chocolate. “Go on, son,” she said. “Take this.” Alasdair decided that he would walk.
As he progressed up the High Street his gaze was drawn, as it invariably was, to the sign above the charity shop window. “Caring for the Sick and Handicapped of all ages”, he read. He felt the anger rise within him. It was time, he felt, to make a statement. At three o'clock the next morning the High Street was still. It had been deserted by even the wind. Alasdair stood on the pavement in front of the charity shop window with the brick in his hand. During the intervening hours he had given considerable thought to what this moment would be like.
Would he actually go ahead and do it? He had never really engaged in any acts of direct action like this before. Yes, he had been down to Newcastle, on a number of occasions, to join in some of the demonstrations by disabled people campaigning against the continued provision of segregated education and for affordable accessible homes; but he had always made sure to stay in the background on such occasions, so that he would not draw upon himself unwanted attention from the police. He had his reasons.
Would he go ahead and do it? He knew that if he did, he would never be able to tell anyone around here that it had been him. Nobody would understand. His point would be missed. It would go over their heads, and be dismissed as an act of stupid vandalism. He would be regarded as a crip with a chip. Nothing would come of it and nothing would change. The support worker would continue to look with cold indifference through the people with whom she worked; the elderly lady on the bench would continue to imagine that being impaired necessarily represented devastating personal tragedy; the grey haired woman in the newsagent's would continue to be patronising and condescending; the old lady at the bus stop would continue to find comfort in her own heavy-laden existence from the knowledge that there was always somebody worse off.
And yet, he recognised that in such an individual act of rebellion, in such an anarchic act of self-expression, there would be something artistic, something of beauty created. Come the busyness of the High Street in a few hours' time, not one soul would be able to look at the charity shop front and see it in the same way they had seen it before. They would look up and read the words “Caring for the Sick and Handicapped of all ages” and below they would see the jagged edges of the desecrated window. Their hallowed, unexamined notion of care would have been affronted. They would be appalled. It would have to be boarded up.
However temporarily, then, he would have made a difference. The interpretation that others put upon his act was their own affair. Would he do it? After this night, Alasdair always said that the shattering of glass was his favourite sound.