Round our way, down winding country roads laced with cow parsley and yellow fields, walks a mysterious man who no-one really knows. We see him most days from car windows, a blurred image of man and bags, coat and hair, hidden face and bowed back. We call him The Bag Man and we fear him, just a little...
Sometimes a stranger becomes part of family mythology and is named by children with little awareness of common usage and hefty dictionaries. So let it be said before we begin that in this story a ‘bag man’ is much the same as a ‘bag lady’ and let us disregard all other meanings.
So the Bag Man walks the country roads up and down, carrying his bags up and down. Parents scare their children with stories that the Bag Man will get them if they don't behave or go to bed on time. Adults pass him in the car at speed in case he gets home before them. Especially when they are alone they find they fear him more than their children do. For children are curious and will tag along behind him, despite their parents warnings.
Yet have they ever thought on and pondered upon a life such as his? We had questions galore to ask him if only our parents would slow down and stop. Where is he going? Where is he from? Does he have a house to live in and what is in his many bags? Questions never to be answered, for now we are as fearful as our parents had been.
Now as I recall my childhood I speculate anew on the mystery that was the Bag Man. With the burdens of adult life upon my shoulders I wonder whether he was as free as he seemed or was he tied to the roadside, slave to the journey, the travail of the winding way. Did he feel boundless and more alive than we do? I imagine stories for him as I did when young, but instead of great adventures and treasure, they are of dark faeries and lost loves.
In my mind’s eye I see that many, many years ago he went to market to buy groceries. A young man he was with jaunty step and clear eye, meeting his lady-love for a light lunch of oysters and pearls. He left her with promises and intensions to return upon the Sunday when both were to be wed. He turned with a wave and set off home, his bags full to the brim with ingredients for cold pottage and syllabub, grate pyes and plump pastries for the wedding feast. Whereupon he unwittingly trod inside a faery ring and begun the wandering way in that hidden realm.
We could not know what torment he suffered, for he looked wild and mad and out of his wits to our human sight. Those taunting sprites and glamoured maidens tore at his hair and pinched at his skin. They danced with him by night and hectored him by day; much cruel sport was made of him. The wind was always against him and the sun burned his back, the roadside held him as the way stretched and blurred and home was always just around the corner.
So hundreds of years fell away, never to be recalled, and when the Bag Man steps from the verge to the path, released from their time to our time, he is far older than he knew and his lady-love is long, long gone. His bags are full of dust and hunger and loss and grief, those pyes and pastries never made nor tasted.
Yet still we see him walking along the verge, the Bag Man plodding the roadside, seen but briefly as we rush by pursuing our busy lives.
By Amber Caspian, 26 May 2011