Walking With Ghosts

It’s six days since we moved into this new place. Six days since I came back to Leeds and 37 years since I left. And I’ve returned pretty much to the neighbourhood where I grew up. It’s a feeling of both tension and relief. Even after so long, this is familiar ground. I know the streets, I know the shopping areas, I can find my way from A to B without thinking.

In these six days I’ve done a fair bit of walking. But at every turn I find myself face to face with the person I was all that time ago. He comes with baggage. A mother and a father, a dog, the friends of his youth. He’s the ghost who walks every step beside me.

Sometimes I almost see him from the corner of my eye, wearing the old dark blue Navy greatcoat he favoured once the weather turned cold, or the cheap hippie Afghan coat that stank of goat whenever it was wet. His hair is longer – but not long, school wouldn’t allow that – and sometimes he’s carrying a guitar. He always has a paperback book peeking out of his pocket. Sometimes he seems to turn towards me with a questioning look, as if to say, ‘You look strangely familiar. Do I know you?’

It’s been six days of walking here and there. The ginnels and alleys that were my way home from school. The road to the tennis courts. The park where I lay on my back on a summer’s night in 1968, having had my head torn apart by Easy Rider, the hill at Roundhay Park, which was cut into terraces then, where I’d spend warm weekend afternoons hoping to meet girls. The paddle boats that no longer exist on the lake. Seeing the faint outline of a shaggy little dog roaring over the grass, happy to be off his lead and free.

Heartbreak, joy, and the day-to-day tedium. An awakening into adulthood. So many of the streets and the buildings around here hold my stories. For six days now I feel I’ve been walking with ghosts, going to place to place and collecting those stories, putting them in a bag and moving on to the next one. Six days so far, but many, many more to come. Then, perhaps, there’ll be new ghosts walking.

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