The face of the crowd.

From The Visitor – Maeve Brennan

“Now in the city there are two worlds. One world has walls around it and one world has people around it. The second world is outside, with the late-winter sky and the bare trees and the hard pavements that stretch in every direction, and with the bright shiny shop windows and the chattering crowds. This world has a sightless malicious face, which is the face of the crowd. The face of the crowd is not immediately to be seen, it only becomes apparent after a while, when it shows itself in wondering sidelong looks and sharp glances.

There is a limit to the time one can spend watching the ducks at that grassy place in Stephen’s Green (where we always went after mass) or even in fingering books outside the old corner shop on the quays. One goes to stand alone on a city bridge, to look over at the water, and suddenly one’s eyes are sliding from right to left, from left to right, to see if some person is watching, some stranger who thinks it odd to stand alone, looking over the bridge with nothing to do. One must be about one’s business. There is no patience for solitary aimless wistful hangers-on who want to sit and watch, or who ludicrously join the crowd in its rush to the end of the street, and then pause at the corner, confused, directionless, stupid.

Even in a shop, when one sits down for a lemonade, there comes the moment to stand up and pay the cashier and go out on the street again and start walking again. One is bound to be sent scurrying back to the place one came from, which is the other world, the first world, the one with walls around it.

This is quite different. It is a standstill. There is silence upstairs and downstairs, behind the closed doors and in the hall and on the landing. There is no compulsion at all. The slow-turning malicious sightless eye of the crowd is not here. One can spend hour upon hour here, watching through the window the changing sky, or reading books, papers, magazines, or even sleeping. Inside the house there is no further step to be taken, except perhaps to find a coat and gloves, and go out again onto the street.”


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