Robert was in school with me. Robert used to come to school everyday with a new idea. He would walk to school with his head down, thinking. He was always one of the last to arrive, sitting into his seat just as the form teacher was shutting the register. I think he lives in Africa now, working for an oil company.
Robert thought of a thousand ways of making money (for example, selling hot chestnuts at dinner time, robbing a bank in town, jumping off Potter’s Bridge into the river and selling tickets for it.)
Then he would discover the saint in himself and decide to help old people decorate their homes, or arrange a children’s party.
Robert had a third set of ideas: these were the most interesting. These were the useless ideas.
These were the best because they didn’t require the rest us to do much at all.
“We don’t know why we do things, do we?” said Robert, one day, after coming in very late. “I mean, why do I come in late all the time?”
And so we come to the words. He came in (late) one day after lunch one day saying that everyone should decide what their favourite word was. The word had to be chosen not for its meaning, but for its sound. Robert had already thought of his. It was the word ‘crayon’. He kept repeating it to himself all day, whispering it under his breath to himself.
‘Crayon, crayon, crayon,’ like some prayer.
I chose adapter. Day in day out, adapter, adapter, adapter.
After a day or so it had stopped meaning anything. Now I knew perfectly well what an adapter was. It’s a device that allows you to put two, or three plugs into one socket. But after a day or two of saying ‘adapter’ to myself, the word became nothing but a sound and then, strangely, just an odd movement of my lips.
Even now, years later, I still feel the same way about ‘adapter’. And Robert, in Africa somewhere, probably feels the same about the word ‘crayon’.