Walking around any town, any village, any city, I’m always aware of the idea of the unknown history of a place. Who has walked this way before me? What worker, thousands of years ago, paused at the foot of this same pyramid? What Roman soldier took a breath as he stood by this wall back when this was Londinium?
Hidden histories aren’t just separated from me by time. People walk past every day, and I sometimes find myself wondering who they are and what their story is. That woman who is smiling as she talks to someone one the phone; that teenage boy who looks so sad: what dramas or everyday histories are unfolding for them? As a writer, and therefore a student of human nature, I can’t help but wonder.
And sometimes, the world at large leaves unexplained artefacts behind. Signs of some other story of which I can only see a single line. A sort of punctuation mark in what could be a comedy, or a tragedy, or some bizarre adventure.
I’m always fascinated by the discovery of random articles of clothing. Over the years I have seen shirts, single shoes (sometimes broken, sometimes not), pairs of shoes, baby’s bibs, single socks, underwear for both women and men, once a pair of good quality black dress trousers, and most recently, boots. I always wonder how these items were separated from their owners, and whether the separation was amicable.
Some things seem obvious (or at least likely) and often the implied story is, let’s face it, a bit sordid, probably involving too much drink and fumbling liaisons between horny friends and lovers.
Still, my brain being what it is, I sometimes think of other stories to attach to this random paraphernalia I see in the streets. Being a writer of fantasy and horror, my brain sometimes supplies fantastical options.
Take this pair of boots, found placed neatly by the bin next to the bookshop at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets one Saturday morning.
My first thought was that some wicked witches clearly don’t feel terribly comfortable in ruby red slippers, so well-worn walking boots seemed like a fair option. An opinion perhaps not shared by any gingham-clad poppets who may have accidentally crushed said witches to death. I would have thought a sturdy pair of walking boots would have been a better choice to wear while tramping off to find the Emerald City, but maybe they clashed with the dress.
Otherwise, I like to think of these boots as belonging to a rare creature who visited this fair city from some other-wordly realm. Having arrived and adopted a more suitable physical form for this environment, this charming and curious creatue (in the guise of a young Frenchman, perhaps – there are a lot of French visitors in Melbourne these days) spent a few days exploring a human city. Perhaps saw the art gallery. Perhaps lobbed into the Toff in Town to discover this thing called blues music.
And when it was time to leave again, our psuedo-French wraith discarded his disguise, allowing the clothes he’d spun from smoke and cobwebs to blow away. Only the boots, which were real human boots and had been required to protect his delicate feet from the strangely hard and unforgiving surfaces of this city, were left. So he put them to one side and, regaining his true form, wafted down the grates to rejoin the creek that once ran where Elizabeth Street cuts through the city (and still runs its secret way below the asphalt, and thence into the Yarra). Perhaps he’s out at sea now, in some peculiar watery world, failing to convince anyone he knows that there is such a thing as a tram.
Lost and Found is an irregular series of posts about random items I find abandoned on the streets. Sometimes I’ll make up stories about them.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.