This unpublished story offers a dark satirical take on depictions of Black men in Canada, feelings of Black invisibility, and the anxieties of Black male sexuality. The social invisibility that many of Clarke’s characters experience is (perhaps) rendered literal. This actual feeling of invisibility gives the protagonist an idea about how to be seen in a society that cannot recognize him. The story is at once light-humoured yet suffused with the dark undercurrent of the feeling of suffering and marginalization that black people in Canada regularly experience. Furthermore, the narrative style, a first person narrative voice speaking in nation language, is typical of Clarke’s short story style in the 1970s and 1980s.
Loftus stand-up at the same street corner Monday to Friday, from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon, studying a bank. The bank was across the street. Loftus stand-up so long in one place that he start to feel he was a telephone post growing outta the ground. And seeing that it was in winter that Loftus first start this standing-up in the street, watching the bank, his feet start feeling like two pieces of icicles that was sprouting-out outta the corner of Sin George and Bloor Street.
He did not want to call the cold effect of his standing-up there by another name, to suggest how frozen-up his body was. But he couldn’t remember if the right word was “staligmites,” which he though was cold things hanging-down, or something else. It was a very big thing with him about the correct name for his standing-up in that posture, cause seeing that he was a very particular kind o’ man, he promise himself many times whilst standing-up there, that he going walk cross by the big Newniversity Library that they had just build on the same Sin George Street, to check-out, if really in truth, “staligmites” was the correct word, if that was the word that stand-for ice growing-down or for ice growing-up outta the ground.
Whilst he was watching the bank, all kinds o’ people pass and watch Loftus standing-up there. And not one body amongst all them multitudes o’ people didn’t even had the presence of mind to tell Loftus that he couldn’t or shouldn’t stand-up there, as the case may be. Out of all them people that pass, none of them see Loftus: and Loftus, when he think of the situation, decide that he must be invisible.
Only one man stop and ask Loftus, after the second day, if he didn’t live nowhere, if he didn’t know he was loitering or disturbing the peace, or being a cumbrance to the procedure of pedestrians. And that one man who say so, was a police. A black police from the West Indies. This police had drive-up and stop beside o’ Loftus in the motto-car, and had hold his head outta the car and say, “Hey you! You blocking the procedure of the pedestrians! You blocking the pedestrians from passing. Move along, and don’t let me see you…”
Loftus went to move along. But when he do so, and try to lift his right foot, whiching is how he always move-off from one location that he want to move-off from, to the next location, be-Christ, the foot won’t move at all. Loftus had turn into a “stalagmite.” Loftus foot stick-on ’pon the ice. And the more Loftus try, the more the foot like it turn-into a piece of “stalagmite,” in truth.
That was when Loftus did first start thinking he should know the exact phraseology to connote everything he do in regards to this standing-up procedure watching the bank. A lotta motto-cars was in the same lane as the motto-car with the black police in it; and they start blowing and honking their horns and saying that the police is the first ones to break the law, and so on; so the police get vex as hell with the pedestrians in the motto-cars blowing their horns in his ears, and he step on the excelerator and speed-off. But if there wasn’t such a commotion on behalf of the public, the police would have put his hand in Loftus arse, for hampering the procedure of the pedestrians, there and then. As a matter of fact, just as the police screel-off in the cruiser, Loftus think he hear him say, “I coming-back for your arse!” But Loftus wasn’t frighten for no police, though.
Loftus uses to be a man who spend a lotta time in the Reference Library ’pon College Street. And he get to know all the rights that he have in this strange land and that he living in now, and he know too, all the wrongs that the public and the police in this cold place could perform against him. Years ago, Loftus was just another fella from the West Indies who did come up here to go through for Law. But a girl from Guyana trick Loftus. She trick Loftus by having a next man. And bram! the unfaithfulness went to Loftus head and cause Loftus to start walking-’bout the place as of he was going-off-in-the-head, like a insane mad-man. Fellas who went to the Newniversity along with Loftus years ago, still walking-’bout and talking ’bout how Norma the Guynese girl trick Loftus. And when they see Loftus now, walking-’bout like a mad-man, in this dreamy-dreamy state, they would walk fast and pass-out Loftus; or else they would rush-cross the next side of the street and don’t notice Loftus at all, at all. Loftus was invisible to them, too. But if they was to have see Loftus first, bram! fast-fast so they stop, and make a turn-around right in the road and gone! But Loftus didn’t care.
Loftus didn’t give one shite if none o’ them ever speak to him again. Because he had one thing in mind: “…cause, gorblummuh! I going make them see me! I going do something to make them see me!” In the rest o’ life, previous and in the past, Loftus was a compound failure.
And this is how, if during them days after the fellas stop seeing Loftus, and after the Guynese girl stop seeing Loftus through the trick Loftus find-out that she play on him, you was to walk-down Bloor Street by Sin George, you would see this tall black man standing-up on the sidewalk right in the procedure of pedestrians, watching a bank on the next corner.
Loftus become so popular as a landmark that a ewespaper-fella with a camera, stop one day and take a picture of Loftus, and put the picture the next morning, on the front page, under a headline that read, “The sights and scenes of the City.” And during that same morning, when all the usual people and some people that never uses to pass there before all the time, pass, the people going-in and coming-out outta the bank, not one of them people didn’t even as much as stand up and open their mouth, and say with a kind o’surprise, “Heyyyyyy! you is the fella what is the sights and scenes of this City!” Be-Christ, Loftus like he is really a invisible man, in truth, yuh! But Loftus didn’t care. Loftus couldn’t give a shite ’bout the picture nor the people who didn’t see him nor read ’bout him in the ewespaper.
Really and truly, though, Loftus did getting a little tired standing-up watching bank, dress-off in his big brown long army winter coat, and in shoes that had-in three holes in one shoe, nothing on Loftus head, and not much inside Loftus stomach, cause things was rough-rough in them days. Loftus arse getting cold cold cold, too; cause he haven’t got-on no underwears; and with the winter crawling-through Loftus body like how castor oil uses to crawl-through his bowels every first Sunday of the month when he was a little boy back in the West Indies, he really convince himself that he turning into a “stalagmite.”
But still, Loftus stand-up and standup-up; watch and watch, and take notes in his mind, concerning the operation of the bank. He had figure-out the whole plan by himself. The plan hit Loftus sudden one night when he was in bed and couldn’t sleep, cause the cold was passing-through holes in the window and through the thinness of the blanket he had over him covering him from the coldness, like a cover. Everything was passing through Loftus in them days: the cold, the “staligmites,” the eyes and the stares.
“Jesus Christ!”, Loftus should out; and he stand-up straight as a icicle in bed.
He get so damn vex that he had waste so much time as a compound-interest failure: working-off his arse as a civil servant licking stamps, after he stop bursting his brains over the Law; driving taxi to gather material and meet womens cause he did want to be a writer once before too, and did fail at that; driving a messenger-van to see what the inside o’ the characters house look like; every conceivable task and occupation Loftus meddle-in and fail in in them days, when he was looking for something to become. And every evening, drunk or sober, in them same days, Loftus uses to be the first man present in the Hall down by the UNIA Hall, where they have a picture of Marcus Garvey and one of Malcolm X, and a charcoal sketch o’ Martin Luther King. In them days, Loftus was a big revolutionary. Every cock-fight and demonstration didn’t well organize, before Loftus wasn’t marching in it. Every petition that was ever draw-up in a petition, have Loftus signature on it. Loftus picked, sit-in, siddown, lie-down, hauled his arse all over the people road and the Queen’s highway, private property and embassy, and once, it take four big real white-police to move Loftus from in front of the American Consulate. So being on the front page in the Sights-and-scenes-of-the-City column wasn’t nothing new to Loftus. That didn’t make Loftus into no celebrity. Cause the RCMP and ’Merican FBI and various other kinds o’ undressed and plainclothes police did already take a million pictures o’ Loftus during them Civil Rights days when all Loftus was a failure, cause Loftus wasn’t doing nothing wrong saving standing-up for his rights. All that brand o’ water with a evil taste in it, pass under the bridge as Loftus jump-up like a “stalagmite” that night, in winter, when the plan hit him.
Plan business Loftus mean now. He intend to perform a act in this place bound to make people see him. Loftus even remember something outta one o’ them books he had was to read in Latin back in the West Indies, and how there was this fella by the name o’ Hannibal who was such a celebrity, and who uses to be invisible like Loftus, and who put on a act, and had all the people in the Germanic and Hispanic and Gallic tribes telling their thrildren for centuries afterwards ’bout Hannibal; Hannibal was such a celebrity that a nurse-maid uses to tell a child, “I am going to call Hannibal for your arse, if you don’t stop playing the arse and eat this baby-food, hear?” And the thrildrens uses to scream for blue murder, and then keep quiet quiet as a lamb, like the lamb that Mary had, a little one that she uses to walk-’bout with in a fleet of wool. That was the brand o’ man Hannibal was. Loftus say, “Man, that man Hannibal was a real gorilliphant!”
But what really did make Loftus really and truly want to launch this attack ’pon the bank, was that after living-through thirteen years o’ protest and demonstration and failure and he didn’t become no celebrity; and that since they only uses to print pictures o’ black people getting beat-up by the police; or else living in a slums or a ghetto as they christen it on the television; and since he never see nothing so on the front page of a ewespaper; and having this phrase from Caesar Gallic War or from Livy flash through his mind that night when he stand-up like a piece o’ iron make out of ice, “Hannibal in occulo altero Alpes transgressersomething…,” is when he decide to rob a bank. And bram! he work out a plan.
“Pure discrimination,” he tell a fella, in confidence, after the idea hit him three weeks ago.
“Discrimination? You now find-out ’bout that?”
“Discrimination,” Loftus tell him again.
“And I suppose you know that the police is the worse…”
“Suppose a police was to catch you, one o’ these days!”
“With a computer.”
“Have you ever hear of a black bank robber yet?”
“Well, now that you mention that, I could tell you that the odds is… but I can’t see you pulling off a thing like that. I just can’t see it, I just can’t see, a West Indian…”
“Is discrimination is not having a black bank robber,” Loftus say. He know that his plan waterproof. He has stand-up at that corner, rub his hand, one ’gainst the next, the cold turning him into a “staligmite” and then the same cold turn-round and thaw him out, going through all these changes o’ permutations of precipitation and metamorphobias, and this blasted fella going tell him some damn foolishness ’bout a computer. “You want to know how I know that this plan is watertight?”
“Well, when the water hit it, I going watch you getting wet, or come and visit you in Don Jail, boy!” And the fella get offa the chair and stand-up to leave.
But before the fella left, Loftus shout-out while he was leaving, “Invisibility, old man! Invisibility!”
And that was the plan. Loftus realize through experience stretching thirteen years that he had the ability to be invisible. Cause look: psychology and sociology and race relations tell Loftus something about himself, from the other point o’ view; that base on certain experiences, he must be rass-hole invisible, cause nobody don’t see him! When that psychological truth hit him, Loftus went wild in the Reference Library searching for a particular book to back-up the psychology concerning the ins and outs in regards to this invisible-thing.
“I looking for a certain book,” he say to the librarian.
“What about one by Fanon? Black Skin White Masks?”
“I read that.”
“Would Prospero and Caliban…?”
“Fuck that!” The way Loftus pronounce the words, the grey-hair lady didn’t understand too good, cause him being a West Indian who naturally can’t speak the King’s English like a librarian; so she merely smile and went on looking for a book for Loftus.
“There’s some very nice books on the Negro in America.”
Loftus isn’t no Negro in America; Loftus is a plain ordinary man who come in a library to find a particular book, so he don’t’ know what the shite this intelligent grey-hair librarian-lady talking ‘bout a Negro in America. But he didn’t say nothing this time, so she went on looking, stopping to touch a book, and look-back to see how Loftus react, and all the time, Loftus following the lady hand and looking over her shoulders, when all of a sudden, Loftus see the book he was looking for, all the time. Loftus snatch the book from offa the shelf, and he hold the book soft in his hand, and read the title over and over. He sign out the book, and gone straight home.
He close all the curtains, lock the door to his room, take the phone offa the hook, and start reading. The Psychology Of The Absurd! Loftus start reading this book like how he uses to try to read the Law; and when he put it down, he did reach the end. When you see Loftus standing-up by Bloor and Sin George, betwixt the hours of nine and three on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; and from nine to six on a Friday, well it mean that Loftus already went through The Psychology Of The Absurd once already for that particular day. And when he gone back home, after a hard day’s work standing-up looking at the bank, it isn’t to cook nor eat nor to go listening to jazz nor to go out and old-talk with the fellas; gorblummuh, is reading Loftus gone home to do. When he was studying Law, is that kind o’ pressure-reading Loftus uses to do. Loftus eyes did turn red red as a cherry since from them days with the Law books. But them days was empty days. Them was days with torts and habeas corpus and failure; wills and testaments and conveniences and headaches. Now, is pure dollars and sense Loftus reading ’bout.
In all, Loftus did spend three weeks looking at the bank. And he spend four weeks studying The Psychology Of The Absurd.
“Hannibal in altero occulo Alpes transfresserimus est” come back in his mind walking down Bloor one day with a lotta people in the sidewalk, and this big man walk right up to Loftus and he was carrying a big parcel and he walk right over Loftus and nearly trample Loftus and the man pick up the parcel and say, “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see you.”
And Loftus study all the ins and outs of how people would walk when they come out from outta the bank and their bank account is overdrawn or if it look so; how some people don’t smile when they go into a bank to put money on a bank; how some people does look round quick quick to the left and to the right when they drawing-off a lotta money offa the bank; how one o’ the mans from Brinks does get nervous and hold-on ’pon the gun tight tight tight and look to the right and then to the left and pat the money bag like if it is the bottom of a woman he have his eyes on, when he drive-up in the van; and how the next fella does run-in the bank ahead o’ him with two guns holding like guns: everything, every particular thing concerning a bank and the goings-on in this particular bank, Loftus memorize. Loftus ready now.
The night before, A Thursday, Loftus put-back the phone back on the hook, and he call-up the same fella who didn’t understand the terminology “invisibility.” The fella visit Loftus as Loftus ask him, eager to laugh at Loftus and of course to fire a couple o’ liquors in the meantime, cause all the time, in spire of all this studyation, Loftus didn’t forget to fire a regular liquor—three or four scotches that he uses to drink every night, by himself, to put some spirits and heat in the thorax, as he uses to call his body.
“How the plan, man?” the fella say, not really wanting to hear no damn plan ‘bout robbing no blasted bank. His mind on the level of the bottle.
“The mind, man!” Loftus tell him. If the mind right, gorblummuh, the body must tick over like a machine! Mind over matter, man.”
The fella start to laugh. “Now, if I was going to rob a bank, I would make sure that I have a alibi. Like in the movies. When I get the alibi work-out, then I would plan the robbery. The next thing is to get a getaway car. I would leave the getaway car running. Just round the corner. I go in the bank. Stick up the bank. Rush out. Get in the getaway. And I get-away!”
“Or. Lissen to this next plan, then. You go in the bank. In broad daylight. You go in. With a mask on your face. With a black mask. Like in the movies. Nobody can’t recognize who you is with a black mask on your face. Then, outside, you have two getaway cars. One is a big lorry or a truck. You park this big long-distance truck round the corner. The doors in the back you leave open. Then you have the next getaway car, the second getaway car, running. That one park behind the truck. You have a piece o’ board, a big piece o’ wood or a plan. Or something. And you place that in a certain position so that the jeep could drive up in the truck. When you drive the jeep right in the truck, you lock the truck doors, change-out outta your bank robbing clothes, and walk through the door of the truck, and stand-up and watch the police looking for the bank robber…”
Loftus didn’t know what to say, so he start laughing. “What time would you rob a bank if you was going to rob a bank?”
“Five on a Friday.”
“When there is a No-Parking signs on the street? You is a ass or you is a ass?”
“Banks close at six on Fridays.”
The fella couldn’t think about no good way to rob a bank, so he start talking ’bout unemployment instead.
After a while, Loftus say he was tired, so he ask the fella to leave. When the fella leave, Loftus went-in a drawer, and take-out a small parcel and put it in one of the two inside pockets of the big long brown army coat. He take off his clothes and get in the bed, naked because he did want to suffer the inconvenience the whole night before, so he won’t be careless the next morning. He wasn’t even nervous ’bout doing the ting. And he had a dream, although he didn’t sleep too good: he is Hannibal crossing the Alps with twenty thousand solders and after he cross the Alps he cross a river and when eh come out on the other side of the bank and he has every man of those twenty thousand. Loftus think and think ’bout this dream, and the more he think, the more difficult the dream was to understand, cause Loftus was never a soldier; he never even was a Boy Scout, so he couldn’t understand all this damn foolishness ’bout rivers and Alps and soldiers and other logistics.
“Could it mean twenty thousand years?” But begin as how he was a ex-Law student, he realize that no judge couldn’t give a first-offender twenty thousand years. Days maybe. But that couldn’t be the interpretation o’ the dream, at all.
But he was still worrying ’bout this dream even when he was standing-up next morning, Friday, around ten o’clock on the corner of Sin George and Bloor watching the bank cross the road, and still the meaning didn’t come. The morning was so damn cold that he get frighten that his feet would really turn into “staligmites” in truth. And since he had to walk cross the road before he could go inside the bank to rob it, he start walking up and down to keep the cold circulating through his feet so that he won’t turn-into a black piece o’ ice. And he start laughing loud when he think ’bout that: imagine what he would look like, as a big tall piece o’ black ice!
“Wonder if I would still be invisible, as ice!” he ask himself. But when he went to answer-back himself, the only thing that come outta his mouth, was something that look like smoke. It did really getting cold.
The time come. Loftus pound both feets on the cold pavement. A shiver went right through his body like a shot o’ Jamaica white rum. He repeat in his mind, as he cross-over the street, the parts of The Psychology Of The Absurd that he had pick-out for this test o’ invisibility. He remember the technique. And he laugh. And he take the thing outta the parcel outta his pocket and put it on.
Inside the bank, there was ten people, mens and womens in three lines. Loftus look for the prettiest white woman behind the counter, and when he decide that the black-hair one with the large blue eyes was the most prettiest and the most youngest, because all three was really young and pretty women and young ladies with blue eyes, he went in that line.
When he get second from the girl, there was five people left in the bank. Four womens was sitting down at desses behind the counter. A big door that look like the door to a big safe was open. But he couldn’t see no money in the safe, though… The manager was in a office that had MANAGER write-down on the glass; and the door was shut and he couldn’t see through the door cause the glass was like if snow was painted all over it. But he could see the manager as a shadow whenever the body in the office move.
He right on top of the woman now.
“Good morning, sir!” she said, as if she was singing a song for Loftus. “May I help you this morning, please?”
First time in his thirteen years that any bank-woman ever address him so. Is a nice way to address a person by, he conclude. So he know that he was correct, psychologically-speaking, to wear the thing that was in the parcel, which as he had plan, he put on just before he enter the bank door.
“Cold enough this morning for you, sir?” Birds coming-outta the woman mouth.
“And what can we do for you this morning?”
“Can you see me?” Loftus ask her, and he move-back from the teller-woman and the counter.
The woman hold-up slightly outta the chair and lean-over a bit, and when she look, she say “Nooo!” in a voice soft as a dove would say it, and as if she was going to faint. She speak in such a soft voice that nobody to the left or nobody to the right didn’t hear what she say, neither in front the counter, or behind the counter with her.
“Gimme all!” Loftus say, trying to talk like a bank robber, or like a gorilliphant, in a gruff voice. But the tone come-out real soft. “Give it to me! All!”
The girl now, like she really going to faint. And trying not to look at what Loftus show she and ask she to look at, but wanting to look at it all the same, and in-between all this confusion in her mind, not wanting to let nobody else in the bank, either in front the counter or behind the counter with her, share in this sight, she put her hand right inside the place where the root of all evil is, deep down inside her drawers, and bring-up all the money she had inside there.
“Thanks,” Loftus say, and just as he was going to turn and walk-out outta the bank, the nice pretty woman-teller fall-down over the counter, and the other tellers say, “Ohhhh!”, and the people in the lines say, “Oh my gosh!”
Loftus continue walking-way from the counter, and when he turn his back to everybody, he take-off the thing that he had put-on his face. He put it in his pocket, and join-back in the same line. But before he join-back in the line, he make sure that he button-back-up his trousers.
It only a take a little time to revive the teller back to life. And when she was revive-back, and seeing real, like before, Loftus was standing-up in front o’ she.
Loftus remain standing-up for about three or four or five seconds before she even look up at him. She start getting busy counting money and doing things with bills and elastic bands, and when she did finish doing these things with the elastic bands, she say without really looking-up at Loftus eyes, but looking at Loftus as if she was looking through Loftus, “What?” She say “What?” in the same voice that a woman in the personnel office down at MacLean’s Magazine did use to Loftus when Loftus went for a job, which as he expect, he didn’t get.
She take up the twenty dollar bill, and without asking Loftus how he want this change he talking ’bout, she break-up the twenty dollar bill, without looking in Loftus face, and she push three fives and five ones in front o’ Loftus.
Loftus turn and walk-back outside. The sun did come out by now. And it was bright bright like in the West Indies back home. It was like life was growing outta the snow. He walk-cross the street and stand-up at the same corner of Sin George and Bloor, as it nothing didn’t happen, whiching it didn’t, because he was invisible. And he stand-up there with the money inside his pocket, and watch the people go-in and come-out outta the bank, and from ten-thirty till six-something when the bank close, Loftus didn’t even worry to count how much money he get from the teller-woman.
He stand up there just to see what going happen. “In altero occulo” pass through his mind. And he put his hand inside his pocket and pull-out a mask of a white-man face with one eye missing. He throw it in a white-thing that was mark KEEP THE CITY CLEAN. IT IS YOUR CITY AND MINE. Loftus didn’t even know before-now, that the city did belongs to him, too.
Just after seven o’clock a motto-car with the West Indian police in it, screel to a stop in front of the bank. And right after that, a ambulance with DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH write-down on it, and in white, pull-up behind the police motto-car. Two men with white coats get-out with a roll-up stretcher in their hand. A man come to the bank door and open for the three of them. Loftus was standing-up like he always uses to stand-up on the corner. Then they bring-out a person on the stretcher, a woman she looked like, judging from the length of the hair. And before the ambulance drive-off, two more motto-cars with police, went in the bank. Loftus remain standing-up till everybody come-out outta the bank, including the bank-people and the police.
Loftus must have remain standing-up till everybody come-out outta the bank and went home, including the bank-people, the police and the public. And then he went home. He take-off the army coat, and hang it up. And then he pour himself a scotch.
“I gotta take-back this book to the Library in the morning,” he say to himself, as he take-off all his clothes and get in the bed. It did get really cold that night, and he didn’t want to sleep too well cause he did want to think ’bout how easy it was to be invisible. And between sleeping and waking and turning-over on his side, a dream come to him: a young beautiful woman with blue eyes and black hair was sitting-down on a bench and he was standing-up in front of her and somebody call-out his name, “Loftus, your turn, boy!” and he move-forward and when he move-forward the woman who was sitting down in front of him to get-up and walk straight down in front of him get-up and walk straight to him as if she was going to walk through him, and before he had time to shuffle outta the woman way, he look back and find out that she had pass right through him as if he didn’t exist as a substance at all.
It was the fella who uses to come to drink-out Loftus liquor, addressing Loftus. Loftus never lock his door, so the fella had come right in and was standing-up over Loftus. Loftus was really mad cause the fella interrupt the dream, and Loftus did want to know how this dream was going to turn-out.
The fella drop a usedpaper on top o’ Loftus. “The same bank I tell you I couldn’t see you robbing. I couldn’t see you doing a thing like this. The man that rob that bank is a fucking genius! Lissen to what they say ‘bout that bank robber:
“… blah-blah-blah … a young female bank teller who has been working at the Bloor-St George branch of the Bank of Commerce for four years, yesterday went berserk and then lost her power of speech before she could identify a man who demanded twenty thousand dollars from her till. Bank officials stated that the teller, who was an efficient employee, reported seeing the man in front of her, and then immediately he vanished into thin air. She could give no identification…”
“And lissen to this part: …when a police pressed the teller, she immediately lost her power to speak and had to be taken in a city ambulance to a mental institution. Medical authorities say that this is extraordinary, though probably … police were reluctant to call it the perfect robbery…”
“Lemme see that.”
“It here, in black-and-white, man! Christ, I wish you was that bank-robber, but as I tell you, I couldn’t see you pulling-off a thing like that.”
“Lemme see that paper…”
“That man with that twenty-thousand dollar bills is a real gorilliphant tonight!”
Austin Clarke (1934-2016) was a Barbadian-born Canadian novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet, and broadcaster.