As we touched down at Heathrow Airport, my feeling was one of relief. Given that my occupation called for me to swim amongst sharks and other fearsome creatures of the deep, a routine flight from Australia should have held no fears for me. I managed to release my grip on the armrest, before unfastening my seatbelt. My throat was as dry as the Sahara with nervousness, and I was in dire need of some liquid refreshment.
The retrieving of my luggage went better than expected, as mine always appeared to be the last to be unloaded. I glanced at the clock on the wall and adjusted my wristwatch, before realising that the clock was wrong. It showed nine-fifteen, which was three hours out. My confused mind was calculating the time zone difference, and I concluded that it must be after six-fifteen. Again, my attention was focused on the wall clock, and I noticed that the second hand was moving backwards, which caused me to smile.
The concourse was busy, with people waiting to be picked up by their loved ones. My tired eyes perused the surroundings, trying to locate Sally and my two children, James and Jenny. I gazed up to the darkening sky and was taken aback, as I had never witnessed such a spectacle. I marvelled at the daffodil-coloured clouds, which were drifting across the spectacular purple heaven.
“Jet lag,” I mumbled to myself. That, coupled with the possibility of sunstroke, offered me a reasonable explanation. I again checked my watch. Sally had never been late before.
I waited another thirty minutes before deciding to take a taxi. The cabby assisted me with my luggage and we set off towards Shepherd’s Bush, my mind still addled by my wife’s absence.
“Been somewhere nice, guv?” asked the cabbie.
“Australia…the Great Barrier Reef actually.”
“Really? No kidding? I’d love to go there. Holiday, eh?”
“No, I was working. I’m an oceanologist.”
“That’s a cool way to make a living, guv. Tell me, did you see any sharks?”
“Yes, there were plenty of sharks.” I was glad of the prolonged silence. As we approached the outskirts of Shepherd’s Bush, my curiosity got the better of me.
“Since when have the taxis been green?” I quizzed.
“Green? Where have you been, guv? They’ve been green since I can remember.”
I examined his features in the mirror, and estimated that the driver could not have been much older than forty.
“How long have you been a taxi driver?”
He scratched his head. “Ten years now, give and take. It’s not as interesting as your line of work, but I’ve met some celebrities in my time, guv. Why, only the other day, I had Howard Morgan in my cab. The trouble and strife thought I was pulling her leg. Howard bloody Morgan.”
“Who’s Howard Morgan?”
He gave me a quizzical look; no, it was more like a look that said, who is this moron? “You’re jiggling with me, right?”
“No, I really haven’t heard of Howard Morgan.”
“You know, Howard Morgan, the ex-Prime Minister.”
I sat in silence, unsure if I was the victim of a wind up. I looked at the cabby’s ID and chanced another question. “Tell me, Ron. What colour is the sky?”
He frowned, and it must have crossed his mind to drive to the nearest mental institution. “What sort of question is that?”
“Please, I’m serious. What colour is the sky?”
“Well, unless they’ve changed it, the sky is purple.”
I held my head in my hands and pondered over just what was going on.
“What number do you want, guv?”
“Seventeen.” I stared out of the window, and although the location was definitely correct, there was something wrong. The blue sea of grass swayed with the rhythm of the breeze, a blue as colourful as the deepest ocean. Again, I rubbed my eyes and made a promise to visit the doctors the first thing in the morning. A good night’s rest would hopefully help.
I paid my fare and inwardly hoped that I had been the subject of a practical joke, although the mention of the purple sky by the cabbie had me bemused. I waited with my luggage by my side, staring at the house. The house that held so many fond memories over the years. Something was different. The house and all of the surrounding structures were tinged yellow, and not red as the last time I viewed them. The last time I had experienced such a spectrum of strange colours was when I had dabbled with LSD. Could someone have tampered with my drink on the plane perhaps?
Eyeing my garden through the gloom, I could make out the smattering of turquoise leaves, which were mingling with the blue grass at the base of the sycamore tree. I picked up my suitcases and approached the front door, before locating my key. There must be some plausible reason why Sally and the children never turned up to meet me at the airport. Perhaps, she had her dates mixed up.
I was perplexed, when I realised that the lock had been changed, and so I rung the doorbell. Jenny answered, clutching her beloved doll like any ten-year old girl would. I stretched out my arms to welcome her, but her puzzled expression told me that something was not right.
“Jenny, it’s Daddy. Give me a hug will you?”
The door was slammed in my face and the click of the lock was audible. A minute later, Sally peered around the door, ensuring that the chain was secured. “Who are you and what do you want?”
I was taken aback by her comments at first, and then smiled and said, “Yeah right.” Sally’s wicked sense of humour came back to me.
“If you don’t go away, I’ll call the police.”
“Sally, enough. I’ve had a long flight and I’m really tired. Come on, give us a hug?”
The door was slammed in my face and I rang the doorbell rapidly, half expecting a crowd of friends laden with booze to appear in party hats. I waited five minutes, before a police car pulled up, and a grey-uniformed constable approached slowly, like only a policeman can. The appearance of his grey uniform and the comical red police car did not surprise me this evening.
“Can you tell me what you’re doing, sir?”
“I live here. My wife for some reason will not let me into the house.”
“Is that so? Well, how come she called the station, saying that a strange man was trying to get into her house?”
“Look, officer, I think you’ve been the victim of a practical joke, as I have. I really do live here.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out isn’t there?”
He rang the doorbell, his eyes inspecting me, as if I was some sort of a pervert.
“Good evening. I believe you called the station earlier?”
Sally, with her usual long red hair surprisingly cut short, somehow looked different beneath the porch light “Yes, this man turned up on my doorstep, claiming to know me.”
“So, you do not know this man?” interrupted the policeman.
“I’ve never laid eyes on him in my life.”
“You’d better come with me, sir.”
“Why are you doing this, Sally? Here, I’ll prove I’m her husband. I have my passport.”
The burly constable accepted the passport and flicked through it. “What’s this?”
“What is this?”
“It’s my passport, what the bloody hell do you think it is?”
“A maroon passport? Are you taking the piss?”
“Have a look at the name, man! I’m her husband.”
The policeman studied the details. “Mark Robinson, eh?” He turned to Sally. “Can you tell me your name please, Miss?”
She folded her arms and sneered at me. “My name is Tina Crossley.”
“She’s lying! Ask the children, James and Jenny?”
“My children’s names are Philip and Rachel. I repeat, I’ve never set eyes on you in my life.”
“Sally, what’s going on?” I pleaded.
The constable cuffed me and hauled me into the car, along with my luggage. I knew this was a bad dream and would wake up at any given minute. I looked back with tearful eyes when the door closed.
I woke up, and the events of the evening before came back to me. I sat on the hard mattress and held my head in my hands, before perusing the bleak surroundings of my cell. I rinsed my face and heard the jingle of keys, before turning to face a grey-attired policeman, who ushered me to an interview room.
I was invited to sit down, and a stocky man with a bushy moustache offered me a cigarette, which I declined. A stern-faced woman joined him, and they sat opposite me.
“This is DS Harding and DC Keller interviewing Mark Robinson at nine-thirty, Friday, 18th June,” he said for the tape recorder. “Now, Mr Robinson, can you tell me why you tried to gain entry to number seventeen Howard Street last night?”
“Because I live there.”
He switched off the tape recorder. “Listen; let’s stop pissing about. I know, and you know that you don’t live there, so why don’t we get this cleared up as soon as possible? I’ve other things to do besides interviewing weirdoes like you?”
“No, really, I do live there.”
“Since I bought the house, some four years ago.”
“Right, so you live there, and the lady you claim to be your wife, swears that she’s never seen you before in her life… Why would she do that?”
“I’ve no idea. You’re the detective.”
The woman detective, DC Keller joined in. “Mr Robinson, why are you carrying a fake passport?”
“Fake? Impossible! I was issued with it about three years ago, and besides; if it was fake, how come I just flew from the other side of the world with it?”
“Highly unlikely. It doesn’t even resemble a British passport. You could have at least got the colour right.”
“Blue. A British passport is blue, and yours is maroon.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m a bit pissed off. I’m jet lagged, and I’m certain that you have no right holding me here.”
“But we have a right, Mr Robinson,” continued DC Keller. “You tried to gain entry to a house where a lady and three children lives, and now it transpires that you have a fake passport.”
DS Harding lit a cigarette and deliberately blew smoke into my face. “You say you’ve just flown from the other side of the world? Where did you fly from and where to?”
“I flew from North Queensland, Australia to Heathrow. I’ll give you the bloody flight number if you want?”
“That would be a help.”
I searched my pockets, but could not find the ticket. I then recalled that I had discarded it at Heathrow. “Listen, I don’t appear to have the ticket. Check with the airline, Quantas. I landed last night at six-fifteen.”
DS Harding nodded to DC Keller and she left the room. It was then that I noticed the wall clock. The second hand was again going anti-clockwise.
“Is something funny?” asked the burly detective.
“That clock. Why is it moving in reverse?”
He shifted his tired looking eyes towards the object of my infatuation. “The clock is moving in reverse?”
“Yes, why? That’s the second such clock I’ve seen since I landed.”
“Christ, you are cuckoo,” he moaned.
“Look at it, man; tell me that it isn’t moving anti-clockwise?”
“The clock is moving forward, Mr Robinson.”
“And suppose you’re going to tell me the sky is not purple, or the grass is not blue?”
“And what colour are they supposed to be?”
“You’re fucking with me, aren’t you? Please tell me you’re fucking with me?”
“Why were you in Australia?”
“I’m an oceanologist. Yes, check with my company at the Institute of oceanography at Soho Square. Here, I’ll write down the telephone number.”
The detective left the room and my head ached badly as I tried to make some sense out of this nightmare. Ten minutes later, they returned and took their seats.
DS Harding loosened his tie before lighting another cigarette. “Mr Robinson, we checked all flights from Australia to Heathrow Airport yesterday, and your name was definitely not on any of the passenger lists. There was a flight from North Queensland, but it landed at nine-fifteen last night. So, as you can see, it was impossible for you to have been on that flight, as you were elsewhere at the time. Besides, your name was also not on that passenger list.”
“No! This is not right. I’m not mad… The taxi driver, Ron, that’s his name. He picked me up from the airport. He was driving a black…no, it was a green cab.”
“Well, he could prove that I came from Heathrow.”
“Which proves nothing. Now stop messing with us, Robinson or whatever your name is. We checked with your so-called company and they’ve never heard of you… Who are you?”
“Mark Robinson. I am Mark Robinson.”
“I’m afraid that’s not good enough… Where do you live?”
“I’ve told you where I live. My photograph! I have a photograph of Sally and the children.” I fumbled through my jacket pocket and passed the photograph to the detective.
“So you have a photograph of the people you’re stalking. Now, if you had a photograph of you and them together,” he smirked.
“What about my credit cards? Check them.”
“We already have. Fake credit cards, fake driving license, fake passport and fake name. What are we going to do with you, Mr Robinson?”
For three years, my home was a mental institute, before I was classed as a C category patient and was moved to an open clinic in Brighton. Three long years to mull over the events and to put some credence into what had happened to me, but however hard I tried, I could not.
I discovered that sunstroke or jet lag was not the reason for the strange colours of the environment. Often, we were accompanied to the beach, and that is where I witnessed the most magnificent sight. The most artistic master could not have dreamed up the scenery that I looked upon. The motion of the tangerine tide lapped the yellow seaweed covered rocks, and merged with the pristine, white sand.
I sometimes doubted my sanity, and dreamt often of the way things used to be. My memories were real, I just know they were. How I longed for some recognition from Sally and my children. How it was burning me up inside, thinking of them living their lives, oblivious of me. I had toyed with the idea of DNA to prove my validity as the father of the children, but the authorities had disowned me, and were tired of my far-fetched claims.
I was sitting gazing at the purple sky; Charlie, my only companion by my side. He asked me for the umpteenth time. “Tell me again, Mark…you know, about the blue sky and the green grass. Tell me about the red brick buildings and the white snow.”
“Charlie, goodbye.” I hugged him and walked towards the tall, wrought iron gates. Charlie clambered after me, panicking and frantic with worry, his bib and braces making him look like a lost child, rather than a forty-year-old man.
“Don’t go, Mark…it’s naughty. You’re not allowed to go through the gates.”
“Goodbye, Charlie.” I heard him cry loudly, as I entered the strange new world.
I sat on the park bench, watching the children playing, their mothers deep in conversation with other parents. My tears moistened my beard, as I watched James playing football with the other children, and Jenny, taking her turn with the skipping rope. Some of the parents offered a curious glance in my direction, wondering who the scruffy, bearded man was.
My tearful eyes focused on Sally, who was sat holding hands with a handsome looking man, probably her husband. He reminded me a little of myself in my younger days. I smiled to see them happy, and my thoughts of introducing myself had been vanquished to the dark chasms of my troubled mind.
The football was kicked towards me and the ball came to rest at my feet. James approached and I could see that he had grown into the image of his father. He must have been twelve years of age now, and he had grown so much since the last time I had seen him. He held out his hands and I looked into his eyes, looking for an inkling of recognition, but there was none. What strange world had I ventured into, where a father could be so cruelly isolated from his family?
“Why are you crying, mister?”
“Because, I once knew someone like you and then lost him. Tell me, have you ever been in a canoe?”
He thought hard and long before answering. “Yes, I mean no. I think so. I can remember being in the back of a canoe a long time ago.”
“Where was that?”
“I cannot recall. It was a long river, surrounded by tall trees.”
I looked towards Sally, who had risen to her feet, having noticed her son’s absence.
“Do you recall the colour of the trees?” I quizzed.
He smiled. “Funny, they were green.”
“Philip, what have I told you about talking to strangers?” Sally looked at me as if I was something on the bottom of her shoe. Her face changed visibly, when she looked deep into my eyes. “Come on, Philip, we have to go now.”
“Remember the trees, Philip,” I shouted after him, the emotion in my voice noticed by his mother. She held my gaze as she retreated, and I swear to this day that she recognised me.
My future is uncertain, for I have nobody and nothing. Suicide is an option, but as I look up to the beautiful purple sky with the yellow clouds and hear the singing of the birds, I ask myself; isn’t this a wonderful world?