Ever wondered about those people who just aren't there? I wonder all the time. I make a distinction between two types of not-there people: the type who just seem oblivious to their surroundings or life or the present moment, and those who aren't really exactly people.
The latter type is far rarer in my experience, although I've had many opportunities to witness and interact with them. They are becoming less rare it would seem, or maybe I'm just getting better at noticing them.
Anyway, my story today is about the other type. I came across a classic Oblivioid.
I was in town doing towny things, and one of the towny things on my mental to-do list was find and obtain a nice fire poker. You know, for shifting logs about in our slow combustion stove. Sticks are no good because they do rather tend to catch fire, and bare hands are not good either for similar reasons. I have in mind something in wrought iron, preferably with a little hook near the end also. With this in mind, I went to the one place in town that sells wood stoves etc (it's also an airconditioning and plumbing business, and having used their services, we like them) to see if they might have something that fit the bill.
Throught the door into a pleasantly shed-like utilitarian showroom/workshop type space, with a few tasty wood heaters on display and a counter down the end for business. Behind this counter was a proprietor type who I would come to know as Bill. In front of the counter, talking, was a large man in a t-shirt and trucker's cap who I would not come to know at all, but whose life details I would come to learn much about. On the counter, turned away from both men but very close to the elbow of Large man was a pretty grey and white cat, in the sphinx pose, who I have come to understand allows humans to call her Minnie. She was perfectly at peace and paying no heed to either fellow whatsoever.
In no hurry, I wandered about the shop looking for such things as I might be interested in, and apart from the shop set of fire tools (of course they have their own wood heater for use in winter) there was no real sign of any for sale. I decided just to wait and ask. Naturally, Large man had a large voice also, which meant I absorbed much of his - er, conversation is not quite the right word here - let's say vocalisation towards Bill without paying any attention at all. He was organising the delivery of something to a town an hour or so further out (or in, depending on your viewpoint) from Bill, and it became quickly apparent that all business had in fact been finalised to Bill's satisfaction, and Large man was just reiterating stuff and filling in irrelevant details about the state of his current project, whereabouts of his wife, and so on.
Behind the counter, the phone rang. Bill did that 'raising a finger' gesture that means "just a minute, I'll have to answer this" while saying "just a minute, I'll have to answer this" and did as he said. At no point did our Oblivioid pause, acknowledge Bill's speech or actions, or even look vaguely uneasy that Bill had turned his back on him to talk on the phone. Just jabbered on, leaning on the counter, looking towards Bill, ignoring the cat. When Bill came back from the phone there was no moment of catching him up on the important plot points of the story he'd have missed while otherwise engaged - no, the slow but steady drone of crap just kept on keeping on. At this point, I am becoming just slightly interested in how this might go. And also feeling a bit compassionate towards them all, especially Bill.
Every time Bill speaks, it is as if this only makes the Oblivioid stronger, as he can seamlessly choose to either ignore whatever was said, or weave it into his ramblings as if it were entirely and irretrievably destined to always have been this way.
I figure maybe I can maybe help out subtly by going to the counter myself, just slightly impinging on the personal space of Large man, and by so doing hint that it may be time to move on and let Bill do some more business. Plus, I wanted to meet the cat. Meeta had been in here before, and had told me of this very friendly puss, so I was looking forward to it.
By this stage Bill is becoming just a little transfixed; despite his efforts to politely wind things up, this guy's monotony is lulling him into the zombie rhythm as well. So when I appear by the counter and catch his eye, I get the nanosecond eye-contact that says "hi, yep, he's one of those, I'm doing my best, please hang on I mean he can't go on for that much longer, surely can he?....I mean can he?...." and then poor Bill's eyes unfocus again and he is drawn back into the Bermuda Triangle of Large man's hyponotic obliquity. Meanwhile, I meet Minnie.
Minnie does that impassive cat thing and is all shy and coy and delicate as I offer her my hand to smell - for about a second anyway, and then it's that instant joyous standing back-arch, little dinky "meoow" and full intensity head-butting of the hand that pats. The whole fabulous performance. What a very cool cat, I am thinking. So now she does something most intriguing. She turns from me, sits by Large man's still-planted counter-leaning elbow, raises a paw, and touches him very gently on the bicep. Then, having no response, lets out a slightly louder purr, and prods him harder. I can see the flesh depress under her paw pads. Nope, still nothing. "Meoow??" As she looks up at his unflinching face, and out come the claws. Paw splayed, claws deployed, and slowly, deliberately, and very firmly, sunk into the meat of his arm, not to skin-breaking point, but it wouldn't have been too far off.
Large man sort of glances halfway down, then drones his face back towards our Bill. Minnie looks at me, does the invisible cat shrug, and parades back towards me for a pat. Then she goes for the kill. Stepping over the Oblivioid's forearm, Minnie performs one strutting pass across him, turns, presents her rear end squarely in his face and proceeds with full-volume purring and rear-paw kneading of the counter complete with windscreen-wiper tail action, flicking across his field of vision. Bill's obviously seen it all before, but Large man is obviously seeing absolutely none of it.
The phone rang again. Repeat story as above, when last it rang.
Some time passes, and imperceptibly, something changes. Slowly our Oblivioid straightens, some pauses creep in to his speech, and he begins to move. Minnie must know something, because she has settled down leaning against me, as I lean on the counter trying to incrementally occupy the space. There is a turning, a movement toward the door, and as you suspected, a completion of the turn back to the counter just to clarify what he'd said just then. More words fall out of his dull trap. Turn for the door, a few steps,,, pause...back to the counter. Words. Door..........turn...words.....counter....door,....words.....door.......door..............GONE!
Pretty much mid-sentence, Large man has left the building. Bill and I look toward the door for a moment, just to see what happens next.
Oh. He really has gone. Minnie celebrates by trotting up and down the counter, stopping to rub her head on mine with each pass.
They're expecting some new fire tools in shortly, I'll drop back in a week or so.
I am pretty sure he was a real person. I wonder what, if anything, he thought about the experience?