I can’t remember his first name – his surname was Newton – but he was from Hartlepool, and we called him Monkey Murderer because of the story, you know the one, about the monkey that was washed up on to the beach at Hartlepool during the Napoleonic Wars, only for the local townsfolk to mistake it for a French soldier and lynch it.
I would’ve felt sorry for him, and guilty for calling him Monkey Murderer, if he hadn’t been the most boring person I’d ever met. Or at least the most boring conversationalist.
He spoke in a kind of deep, relentless monotone about topics no one was interested in, or topics that would’ve been interesting, if someone else had been talking about them. He would start talking, and you would zone out, his voice sounding like the hum of traffic from the fifth floor of a high-rise office building.
One day, when we were walking down the street together back to our halls of residence – this was towards the end of our first year at university – he began talking about something – God knows what – and I quickly went into the whole nodding thing, saying hmm and yeah at what I thought were appropriate moments.
He went on and on, until I noticed it had gone silent, so I said, yeah, as that usually worked, but he didn’t continue. I looked at him, and saw he was staring at me suspiciously, a suspicion mixed with hope and a kind of sadness, and I had a momentary pang of shame for being such a dick.
He said, what do you think? And I said, I’m not sure, it depends, you know, hoping those words would satisfy him, even though I knew, and thought he knew, I was bullshitting, and had no idea what he was talking about. I winced and waited for him to have a go at me, but he just nodded and resumed his soliloquy, deciding, I think, my words showed I had either actually been listening, or hadn’t been listening, but that he was going to ignore that fact and carry on regardless.
I lost touch with him after that. Not that I missed him much. I moved out of the hall of residence while I think he stayed on or moved in with strangers as no one who knew him wanted to live with him. I didn’t hear anything about him apart from a rumour from Ben, a mutual friend, who told me he’d found out that the reason he was so boring was because he’d been put on medication after having a manic episode when he was a teenager, or something to do with drugs, LSD most likely. He could be boring or insane, his doctor had said while his mother looked on arms crossed, and he’d chosen boring.
After that I forgot about him completely. I graduated, got a job, eventually a girlfriend and a flat. Then, last year, I met up with Ben as he was back in town and he told me he’d seen the Monkey Murderer.
At first I didn’t know what he was talking about – I imagined some tabloid gargoyle – but he jogged my memory, monkey murderer, Newton, the most boring talker alive, and I laughed and did the whole, oh, him, traffic noise sounding in my head.
Ben said he’d friended him on Facebook and they’d met up. He was living on his own in a flat in Garnethill – money was never a problem for him at uni; he didn’t even take out a loan – and he was the same Monkey Murderer, boring as hell.
He had this room, though, Ben said, you should’ve seen it, full of photos, hundreds of them, blue-tacked to the walls, and every one of them of people sleeping. A tramp on a park bench, a child in a pram, a drunk outside a pub, a woman on a sofa, a man his head sunk into his pillow. They went from skirting board to ceiling, some in black and white, some in sepia, some in colour. He said it was a project of his. Not for uni or study or anything. He wasn’t at the Art School. Just a project. Something he did in his spare time.
Ben said he liked them, how unguarded and natural and peaceful the people looked (whether he was joking I couldn’t tell), and he told Monkey Murderer to put them online or on a website or something – what’s the point in having something like that if you don’t share it? – and Monkey Murderer agreed.
He set up a Facebook page, Sleeping Shots or something like that. Ben showed me it on his phone the day we met up and I subscribed to it. Everyday I get a new photo. You can too, if you want. There’s no security protection or anything like that on it, and he wants everyone to see it.
After he showed me the site, I asked Ben how Monkey Murderer took the photos – some of them looked like he’d broken into people’s homes at night and stolen their souls – and Ben said: he told me, he even told me why when I asked him that, but you know what it’s like with him, that traffic hum. I didn’t listen to a single word.
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