Mr Peter Armstrong of no fixed abode was found guilty in the magistrate’s court of stealing a light switch. He was cautioned, fined and released back to the gutter. Rain lashed against his weather beaten face as he began to walk in no particular direction with no particular purpose, hopelessness overwhelmed him as his shoes filled with water. He found himself in front of the tea wagon scraping together what little change he had in exchange for a hot drink and as he searched for refuge from the incessant rain he flashed back to the day of his arrest. He could recall the merciless mocking tone of the questioning officer, ‘”I could understand it mate if you nicked a sandwich but a light switch? Don’t tell me you’re going to light up cardboard city” came his cruel unrelenting sarcasm. His tone defaulted to a perfunctory one as he switched on the tape.
Peter’s crime was that he’s allowed himself to think. On the street you don’t think or remember, you don’t dream or hope you just exist. He’d been frightened by the untamed monster of though as it gained momentum, he imagined himself walking through a front door, it was his front door, his fingers fumbled for the light switch, the effect was immediate as he turned it on. A single second action illuminated his world and he stood motionless, lizard like, basking in the light. Seduced by the glinting of a stainless steel kettle in a darkened kitchen he rushed forward to fill it, with the flick of a switch the promise of a hot drink became a reality.
The crushing of the polystyrene cup in his freezing hand interrupted his thoughts and he watched pathetically as the cold dregs of tea dribbled through his fingers. He slid to his knees and hearing the rainwater bubbling in the gutter, his thoughts transferred instantly to the boiling kettle. Sitting again in the armchair, mug in hand he fingered the tv remote pressing buttons rapidly switching from image to image, he was mesmerised by the vivid colours but they began to swirl and distort and before long they were dribbling oil patches painting the wet road.
At once he was back to the arrest fighting against the handcuffs, the over important shop manager stood watching. He recalled with sorrow his walk of shame as he was led to a waiting car. He needed that switch, the same switch taken for granted by so many, the switch that connects you to a computer, turns on heat, music or the oven.
The switch that gives you a choice.
He tried in desperation to revisit the house but as he drifted across the road every last thought was to be erased in an instant by the oncoming car as it ploughed into him. The rhythmic pulsating of his life support machine filled the room, a better life awaited him at the press of a switch, if only someone would turn him off.
– Joanna Hextell