The Whites of His Eyes

By David Carson

Nowadays, it seems that no area of activity is immune from the    piercing (some might say prying) eyes of the academic researcher keen to uncover some new facet of human behaviour.

Winter is his season, and each day he can be seen walking the streets of the small town. Everyone gives him a wide berth.  Partly this is because of his appearance.  He is large – of head, of torso, of leg. Like a mastodon, some say.  Like a brick shithouse, say others. He is ugly, too. His forehead overhangs his eyes like a slab of granite; his nose blots out his chin. And a baseball cap overshadows his   face.   Nobody dares look him in the eye, for at the slightest movement of his head, people avert their gaze.

The other reason is his dog.  It is a cross, though folk are unsure of what. Some say of a Rottweiler with a Doberman. Those who believe themselves to be canine cognoscenti insist it is a mixture of Beauceron and Tibetan Mastiff. Its expression is of controlled hostility.

Whispers rustle in their wake at a safe distance.  He has been in prison (after all, social security had provided his flat). For a violent crime.  Murder, almost certainly. And he isn’t from hereabouts. There is Romany in his blood – look at his skin, pitted and swarthy.

They, this man and his dog, can be seen, in the pallid afternoons of January and February, lumbering heavy-footed as they seek out the darkest corners of the town – the disused railway, the abandoned orchard, unkempt waste ground, anywhere there is undergrowth, low-slung bushes, dense grass.    It is common knowledge that such places are the habitat of meths drinkers, drug-crazed sub-humans, fornicators even.  The man can be any one of these, or more likely all three.

Such was the information I received from my assistants, my scouts, trained to scour the area for reports of unusual events, strange happenings, and relay the intelligence to me. As a consequence, I moved into the town just after the New Year.  I was soon able to confirm the veracity of the reports I had received from colleagues. Sepulchral whispers urged me to beware the Urban Yeti.  Acquaintances and strangers alike described the routes he took. If all were accurate, his meanderings left no area unvisited. Unless I wished to remain a prisoner in my new surroundings and thus forfeit my research, I would need to gird my loins and venture forth.

I am both an inquisitive person and a risk-taker – necessary attributes of a social anthropologist. Science demanded that I learn more about this person. I realised that safety lay in knowing where my quarry was at all times. Therefore, I would need to follow him yet keep out of sight. From my window, I scanned the street. According to intelligence received, this was where he would likely pass at some point. On my first sortie, I was successful until he drifted into a wooded area, where I lost him. But I noted that he was carrying a torch and that his dog was not immune from micturition at lampposts and the base of trees.

Two, three times more, I managed to study his habits before he was swallowed up in unfamiliar territory. Each time my store of knowledge increased. I noted the way he communicated with the dog – grunts, jerking of the lead. His pace never varied though his stride was laboured. Whenever he left solid road surface, his torch flashed earthwards. I wrote up all this information fastidiously in my research jotter. It would be essential for the peer review phase that would surely ensue.

My efforts were rewarded on the fifth day. By now, I was more conversant with his meanderings and also aware that he had taken to carrying a weapon of sorts. I pursued him with added vigilance.

Twilight shrouded the wood. I watched him thread his way purposefully between the trees until he arrived at a small clearing. He bent down. In my excitement, I must have disturbed some foliage.    I saw him freeze, and the hair on the dog’s back rose up. Before I could distance myself, he had raised the weapon and pointed it in my direction.

I had prepared myself for this moment. I knew I must stand my ground, show no fear, only concerned interest. And then he spoke.

I anticipated a chainsaw-like rasp or at the least a basso profundo. I tried not to flinch when the high falsetto notes flew in my direction – a perfect countertenor.  I could scarcely contain my excitement. He beckoned me over with the trowel and indicated an indeterminate clump of greenery.

“Admire,” he enthused. “Galanthus, but not just any Galanthus. Look how compact it is. Admire the green markings. Look at the way the flowers nod as if signalling agreement. Or bidding welcome. I have searched for it long and hard – Galanthus Woronowii.” Delicately he worked a portion of the plant out of the ground and cradled it carefully in his hand. The palm became a gentle shelter, a protection for his precious find. He looked at me and said, solemnly, “Perfect for the snowdrop display in my window box.”

I had found the subject for my thesis and foresaw a warm reception for its originality:

“Investigation via case study into discrepancies between perceived impression and objective reality” or “Appearances Can Be Deceptive”.

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