Petrified Norman

In the summer of 1836 the process of Norman’s petrifaction began. A year later he was complete. From that day forth he sat pristine, silent and motionless, in the centre of Greengrove Square.

In 1838 Norman met Tom. Tom was nine years old, but could read better than any other nine year old in town. Every Wednesday Tom joined Norman in the square and eagerly devoured this week’s chapter of a story about a young man called Oliver. Tom wondered aloud if ‘work houses’ could really exist? Norman had no answer. This boy was Norman’s first friend.

21 years later an elderly scholar sat on Norman’s plinth and read Origin of the Species. He had barely browsed halfway through it before throwing it on the ground in disgust and marching back to his academic quarters. A young man called Eric, who was passing at the time, picked the book up out of sheer curiosity, took it home and read it. Inspired by the work, he became a fine physician. Norman remembered this as he watched his funeral procession four decades later.

Norman wished more than anything that he could join in the dancing when the townsfolk celebrated the birth of a new century. It was the first time he’d seen people drunk, and wondered if they would ever sober again.

In 1908 he witnessed the last minute preparations for the Olympic games in the west of the city. The athletes of the marathon event ran right past him, without even throwing him a glance. 73 years later the same race would again scurry beneath his unmoving gaze, and annually thereafter.

Fred the carpenter built a bench for the square in 1910. Norman loved it when people would sit in it and keep him company.

1912 saw the sinking of the ship they claimed would never fail. A couple bound for that vessel had firmed their travel plans while sitting on Fred’s bench. Norman had watched them jealously. How exotic their adventure had sounded…

It was only two years more before the first war began, and the men all but disappeared from his streets. Many would never return.

In 1926 a man invented a box you could look into while indoors and see what was going on in the outside world. Norman heard people talk of it excitedly, but could not fathom it, nor its attraction. Outside was already there for looking at. Wasn’t it?

When people talked about a great depression three years later he wondered if it was because everyone was indoors looking in their boxes.

In ‘32, when a man called Mosley held a conference by his feet, Norman knew that he was trouble. His ideas were poison and he used them to whip the gullible and the hateful into an ugly frenzy. Four years later many rose against him and his kind. Norman could hear the battle on nearby Cable Street and knew pride.

1939 brought another war, and the streets cleared once more. They emptied at night too, and fire often fell from the skies. Houses around were burned and flattened, but Norman stood strong. The whole world fought for six years. The celebrations were welcome when they came, but Norman no longer wished that he could dance.

A decade later a man had an idea while sitting on the grass alongside Norman. He then wrote a novel about a world he imagined thirty-five years in the future. His warnings would go unheeded.

In ’52 a smog filled the air and took with it four thousand souls. Norman weeped for each one.

In 1967 almost every youngster who sat by Norman’s feet talked excitedly about Sergeant Pepper. Norman hoped that this didn’t mean another war was on its way.

In the September of 1977 a dog laid a wheaty turd at his feet. They sat together, the dry excrement and the statue, for almost a week before the autumn gales blew it away.
Norman remained.

In 1984 the country verged chaos as police from his city were mobilised across the country to quell dissent among the working classes. People starved and families were destroyed. The bench Fred had built for Norman all those years ago was taken one night and used to heat a nearby home.

In 2000 the country celebrated another new century. Norman wondered where the last one had gone.

In the years to come the wars blurred into each other and Norman found it difficult to tell when, or indeed if, the nation was at peace. Another carpenter, this one called Tim, built Norman another bench. It was a lovely bench, but it only lasted three weeks before being destroyed by a noisy group of men who were celebrating something or other.

Norman found it difficult to care. Difficult to concentrate. Was he getting old? He’d seen so many humans grow old and confused. Perhaps this was now happening to him too.

Norman wondered what had happened in the story that Tom had read by his feet almost two hundred years before. And he wondered what had happened to Sergeant Pepper. And that dog.

When he’d had enough wondering, Norman began the process of un-petrifying. Over the next few weeks he shed the stone around him like serpentine skin. The city officials sent experts, who prodded at his disintegrating form, and took samples away to laboratories to study. No one could understand why he was disappearing.

When he was finally done, Norman followed the last grain of stone-dust into a gust of wind and never returned to Greengrove Square.

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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