Work moves slowly on for the postman, old now, and grey, worn, like the old bag slung across his shoulders. This was once smart and new, eager and full of use, but now, like him, it is tattered and torn, greying, thinning, threadbare and showing signs of age and wear from toil.
The tiredness of being, creeping through the old man’s bones, wearing him out, he struggles for breath. Coughing, he sounds like an old car being started on a frosty morning. The engine turns, like his hacking cough, suddenly sparking into life and then ending as the firing key is unturned.
He grapples with the cloth of life, all around pebbles scatter, his fingers bleeding, raw stumps with no finger nails; the nerves in his knarred fingers and in his empty finger nail beds scream for mercy, his fingers red with pain. No mercy comes.
The cliff face of life has no easy routes, and standing back to survey the path, the postman sees that the soil is not dead, merely sleeping. Life comes through the soil, cracking back the winter’s icy death. Soon spring flowers the postman will see, his luck reversing as the struggle eases and springs warmth brings release. Orchids, winter heliotropes, winter aconites ,bluebells, irises, narcissi and daffodils, tulips and saffron, violets and violas, the tapestry of spring, new grass grows and the grey of winter is replaced by the newness and hopeful joyfulness of spring and summer. New leaves coat the dead trees, bringing them to life, loosening them from winters grip; they lose their lamb’s tails and catkins for summer scents and foliage. Insects appear, where were they for three months? Magically, the butterflies and bees spring as from nowhere, and the birds start to sing, filling spring, helping the postman to forget winter’s emptiness and the loneliness of struggle. Summer days the postman sees, as he creeps up the hill, cups of tea, swallows, scones, afternoon post, cricket and long shadows.
Cycle joins cycle, the year moves on.
The year moves on, each step jolting through the postman’s soul; sometimes the saltiness of tears springs to his eyes, he remembers all he’s done. He feels helpless, stranded, scared; only the view from the hill jolts him, back to reality.
From here he can see the whole of Romney Marsh, Dungeness power station, even the pylons running from the station. All the villages he can see. Overlooking Ashford, Pluckley, Smarden, Headcorn, Egerton, Woodchurch, Charing. Tops of houses, tree tops, chimney pots, thatched rooftops, forests and parklands. The M20 cuts straight through the vista, detracting nothing. The sea is just visible from certain places on the postman’s route, on Charing Hill, its salty warmth springs back to his face, he struggles like a drowning man, suddenly breathing air, swimming to the surface, panicking, sweating, the surface beckons, he breathes. The water runs down his face, its salty warmth not of the sea. Winter has screamed its last icy blast, forcing him deeper into his cloths. Skin turns to stone in this spring wind, exposed in this place, the postman realizes that beauty has a cost.
Sweat like frost clings to his back as the breeze freezes before his face.
Every morning, except for Sunday, the postman wakes, and walks to the sorting office; he works in the back of the sub-post office, in a shed, with others like him. Not for him the dreary bright lights of the town, but the greatness of the Weald and the majesty of the Downs. Every day to that cardboard-clad, dusty, smoky, damp filled SPDO hutch, like some crazy rabbit. The frames before him have labels for the houses now, but before, there were no sorting frames, and it was just a table on trestles and his memory to sort the mail. Every address and every house is burnt in his memory.
Off he goes on his round, up the High Street, into Woodbrook and Pym House, back along Woodbrook, up The Hill, past Clearmount Nursing Home, up Charing Hill, turn into the Pilgrim’s way, a few houses here, turn back, to continue the slog up Charing Hill and then to Stocker’s Head. At the top is the restaurant, its changed theme more times than he can remember.He stops here and there, delivering his mail. Then, At Faversham Road and Canterbury Road, at Threeways Junction ,he turns, and heads to The Bowl Road. He cycles along, through woodlands and past a windmill, till he reaches the last house, then back, down The Wynd. A few houses left now. Nearly home. Now the thrill of the hill, peddling down Charing Hill and The Hill at breakneck speed.
He hammers into Charing High Street. He sorts the afternoon mail now, what little there is, and delivers the second post, the route for the second post is different. Off he goes, down the High Street, past houses, pubs and the Doctor’s Surgery, all the way to Charing Station, up Burleigh Road, and then he turns, back, down through Burleigh road, and onwards, stopping at Pluckly Road. He goes home now, pushing the bike back through the country roads; he walks the bike back into the sorting shed, checks his frame and his bike, and slowly walks home. He started at 5 am, now its 2pm, or on bad days its 4pm, or on good days it’s 11am, but its more bad than good. Christmas time is crazy, with everyone sending cards to everyone else. But the letters are less and less every year, and the parcels more and more. Email means letters are fewer, and people are more impatient for their mail.
In the snow he’ll walk the route, too dangerous for a bike. All weathers, rain, sun, wind or shine, the postman will be out, struggling against the elements.
Home now, to his wife. His home.
He feels the warmth of her skin in his dreams, enfolding him, and holding him. He is safe. The elements harm him not, and the kitchen warmth comes from his oven, thawing him now work is done. The sweat distills from his body, legs trembling with effort, he changes into a human being, and the uniform gets folded for another day. Despair is hung up in the cupboard, along with the tie, still knotted in his pocket. Weekends give no respite, the Saturday post must come, Sunday just gives him time to rest, and work comes too soon.
He lives to fool himself that all is well, and each morning, he sees the golden dawn, in all its beauty unfold, as the sunlight streams through the clouds. God’s cathedral is outside. The fog, hanging over the streams and parks and in those empty alleys, boils away. The frost, which turned the landscape into an Aladdin’s cave of sparkling, dew-dropped grass, rises up and melts, forming steam. Friendly faces say “hello postie!” and pass the day with a thought and a wish. All the people in God’s great village know him and his face, relying on him to break the daily bleakness, knowing all that’s left is death. He is the community.
Even Sunday,the postman is up with the birds, when he strolls down to the Methodist Church. Here are characters from all walks of life, and all social levels. Sing, talk, meet, hope: the week is complete.
The postman’s year is ending once again, twelve months of hard slog, followed by another twelvemonth; in the end, all he has is the few square centimeters in his head, and nothing more.
Can the postman still have pride in what he does, and this just delivering mail?