Alone on a Wall, Contemplating

IT is time to confess that at least half my life has been spent in idleness. My old school would not be proud of me. Nor would my Aunt Muriel.

``You spend most of your time sitting on that wall, doing nothing,'' scolded Aunt Muriel, when I was 7 or 8. ``Are you thinking about something?''

``No, Aunt Muriel.''

``Are you dreaming?''

``I'm awake!''

``Then what on earth are you doing there?''

``Nothing, Aunt Muriel.''

``He'll come to no good,'' she warned the world at large. ``He'll spend all his life sitting on walls, doing nothing.''

And how right she proved to be! Sometimes I bestir myself and bang out a few sentences on my old typewriter, but most of the time I'm still sitting on that wall, preferably in India's winter sunshine.

Thinking? Not very deeply. Dreaming? But I've grown too old to dream. Meditation, perhaps. That's been fashionable for some time. But it isn't that either. Contemplation might come closer to the mark.

Was I born with a silver spoon in my mouth that I could afford to sit in the sun for hours, doing nothing?

Far from it; I was born poor and remained poor, as far as worldly riches went. But one has to eat and pay the rent. And there have been others to feed, too. So I have to admit that between long bouts of idleness there have been short bursts of creativity. My typewriter, after more than 30 years of loyal service, has finally collapsed, proof enough that it has not lain idle all this time.

Sitting on walls, apparently doing nothing, has always been my favorite form of ``inactivity.'' But for these walls, and the many idle hours I have spent upon them, I would not have written even a fraction of the hundreds of stories, essays, and other diversions that have been banged out on my typewriter over the years. It is not the walls themselves that set me off or give me ideas, but a personal view of the world that I get in touch with while sitting there.

Creative idleness, you could call it. A receptivity to the world around me: the breeze, the warmth of the old stone, the lizard on the rock, a raindrop on a blade of grass; these and other impressions impinge upon me as I sit in that passive, benign condition that makes people smile tolerantly at me as they pass. ``Eccentric writer,'' they remark to each other.

It's true that I am eccentric in many ways, and old walls bring out the essence of my eccentricity.

I do not have a garden wall. My shaky tumbledown house in the hills is perched directly above a drivable road, making me both accessible and vulnerable to casual callers of all kinds - inquisitive tourists, local busybodies, schoolgirls with their poems, hawkers selling candy, itinerant sadhus, scrap merchants....

To escape them, and to set my thoughts in order, I walk a little way up the road, cross it, and sit down on a parapet. Here, partially shaded by an overhanging oak, I am usually left alone. I look suitably down and out, shabbily dressed, a complete nonentity - not the sort of person you would want to be seen talking to!

Stray dogs sometimes join me here. Having been a stray dog myself at various periods of my life, I can empathize with these friendly vagabonds. Far more intelligent than your purebred Pom or Peke, they let me know by their silent companionship that they are on the same wavelength. They sport about on the road, but they do not yap at all.

Left to myself on the wall, I am soon in the throes of composing a story or essay or poem. I do not write it down - that can be done later - I just work it out in my mind, memorize my words, so to speak, and keep them stored up for my next writing session.

Occasionally a car will stop, and someone I know will stick his head out and say, ``No work today, Mr. Bond? How I envy you! Not a care in the world!''

I travel back in time some 50 years to Aunt Muriel asking me the same question. The years melt away, and I am a child again, sitting on the garden wall, doing nothing.

``Don't you get bored sitting there?'' asks the latest passing motorist, who has one of those half-beards that are in vogue with TV newscasters. ``What are you doing?''

``Nothing, Aunty,'' I reply.

He gives me a long hard stare.

``You must be dreaming. Don't you recognize me?''

``Yes, Aunt Muriel.''

He shakes his head sadly, steps on the gas, and goes roaring up the hill in a cloud of dust.

``Poor old Bond,'' he tells his friends at dinner that evening. ``Must be having troubles. This morning he called me Aunty.''

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