I passed a man on the street this morning walking towards me with a cardboard box over his head. It was a huge one. I can only guess at what it once contained – a microwave oven or a shipment of bananas or a consignment of flat pack garden furniture – but this morning, as it came towards me under the railway bridge at Abbey Mount, it contained a man’s head (whilst still attached to his shoulders). So big was it that I had to teeter on the kerb to save myself from getting ker-thwacked by the edge of the box as he passed. He was tall with skinny legs, which I know because his pale jeans were slim cut but they looked baggy on him, and on his feet he wore a pair of hi-tops that were only laced up to about the fifth eyelet so the tongues flopped, exhausted, like the spent tulips on my kitchen table that I’ve not got around to throwing out. I assume he was finding his way by looking at the ground. As he passed me, he seemed to slow, perhaps taking in my brown suede toes, and he moved towards the wall at one side of the pavement where the box pranged the side and sent him staggering. For a split second, I felt slightly mortified for him, as if he had been made parade around Edinburgh’s streets this way as a punishment, or as though he didn’t know he had a huge cardboard box over his head. (Like that time I went to Ballyhackamore library, spending an hour browsing and reading and asking for certain books whilst, unbeknownst to me, I was, all the while, sporting a blackcurrant jam moustache that no-one mentioned – what is wrong with people?!) Then I wised up. Why should I feel remotely mortified on his behalf? He has every right to express himself by hiding under a box if he wishes. I ditched feeling humiliated for him and reverted to mild interest as to what on earth he was up to, what could his motivation be? Maybe he had to carry it for a short distance and had decided this was the easiest way to courier it from A to B. Maybe he was a live, interactive, moving art installation that I didn’t quite ‘get’. Maybe he’d just been given the worst haircut of his life and wasn’t ready to unveil it. Or maybe it was a life-coping mechanism and he had decided upon a large cardboard box as the best way to block it all out. Life: the pressure, the noise, the demands, the pollution, the grey sky, the scowling faces, the Special Brew cans chucked into the bare branches of a hawthorn hedge, the pool of diced carrot vomit at the bottom of Regent Park steps, the rain. Come to think of it, maybe I should get myself a carboard box. I’d choose a smaller one though, and I would cut eye holes in it, maybe dig out a packet of Sharpies and decorate it. At a time when the worse things seem to be worsening still, there are worse things than meeting a man wearing a cardboard box on his head. In fact, the truth is he rather cheered me up.
Things, by Fleur Adcock
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.