Spring was coming to an end and Ben was entering the summer of life. Repetition began to cast a shadow on everything he experienced, and he could fast forward his thoughts easily into autumn now. Days started and days ended, cars whizzed, children laughed, balls bounced, tube trains ran, food was eaten and birds flew. He was none the wiser as to why these things happened, they were just events turning in his mind. The anticipation that something incredible would happen to him was fading. But there was a sense that something needed to change. The path leading there was close but he couldn't quite find it underneath the dust of his habits.
Its important to remember that Ben had spent most of his life perfecting playing the tough guy. There wasn't a person in Walford, that worked harder at keeping up a pretence. Each morning he squeezed himself into ill fitting shoes, that chaffed his ankles. He was being squashed and bruised, and he didn't even feel the pressure like gravity. But he was tough as result, and stronger in the broken places.
It was mid morning and as usual Ben was food shopping in the market, he was trying to decide which vegetables to buy from Beale's stall. Looking up he noticed a man watching him. It seemed that something about Ben intrigued the man. And in that moment Ben couldn't guess what that could be. Perhaps he could help the man in some way, or perhaps the man could help him in some way. Of course it was beyond the social contract to simply approach the man and say, what are you thinking? That would never do. That would never do, he thought to himself. What the hell were we doing in society he thought: robots simply proving we knew the rules? Of course anything was possible but in Ben's neutered state he couldn't see that. For him these things were like a series of smoke signals that blocked the path to truth. Anyway the man gazed, and a warm feeling entered his stomach, and spread over his cheeks as he thumbed an apple.
The revolving doors of the Vic clattered and Ben settled at the bar.
"Alright Mick, Pint of Stella please"
"There ya go Ben" - Mick said as he handed him his drink
Turning from the Bar, Ben felt a brush on his opposite side, turning back the other way he realised the man from the market was next to him. He noticed the man's eyes taking him in.
"Stella, unusual drink for a gay boy" - Callum said winking
"What, fuck off mate"
"Wow closest boy - only joking, can't handle the truth"
"Yeah yeah genius have a word with yourself"
Ben turned away and found a seat in the corner.
Could he handle the truth? Ben wondered as he quietly supped his pint – discretely watching Callum throughout.
It was morning a couple of days later and Ben was talking to Phil in the Kitchen.
"We've got serious problem down the Arches. Making no money nowadays with these electric motors" - Phil said, afterwards letting out a huge sigh like a lion yawning
"Maybe we should branch out, start something else"
"Something else? Like what? Not that easy is it"
"Suppose not dad, but we're family we'll sort it out"
"That's right I'm proud of you son, you're a proper Mitchell"
"I'm going down the cafe" - Phil said as left the room and closed the door behind him.
Ben was sitting in the allotment, he was thinking about the financial problem his Dad had brought up. But nothing was coming to mind. He was desperate to please his Dad and keep up the Mitchell name. He heard footsteps and noticed Shirley approaching.
"Hi Ben, what are you doing here?" - Shirley said
"I'm worried we've got money problems, the Arches isn't working - need to come up with something"
"Don't worry Ben something will turn up"
"You think so"
"Definitely, good things happen to good people, and a kind honest man like you deserves only the best"
"I've got to get off, we'll catch up later"
Shirley stood up smiling at him and went on her way. He felt emboldened by Shirley's comments, and it started a new wave of thoughts. If he deserved good things why didn't other people. Maybe a precursor to kindness was honesty. Could he make people more honest? The Vic sort of did that after some drinks but that wasn't enough. What Walford needed was a place where people had to be honest...an honest space...could he turn the Arches into a sort of sober speak easy? A place where the entrants took a vow to be honest. The Honest Arch. It would really help the community and could potentially make great money, there was something addictive about the concept in his mind, he didn't want to let it go.
THE HONEST ARCH
Phil had taken some persuading. But in the end relented to a test evening to see how it would go. The Honest Arch was pitched as an electronic free zone, where all entrants took a vow to remain honest upon entering, and to answer any questions. Anyone could ask anyone anything, and there were food and drink available for purchase. It could be described as sort of work lounge area in appearance.
The opening time was 6pm, and Ben was surprised to see a queue forming outside. Scanning down he noticed and was pleased to see Billy, Mo, Sharon, Martin, and then those eyes again. Callum's eyes fixed upon for a moment, and then darted away.
"Ben go and greet the punters, I'm still setting up in here" - Phil said
Ben walked over and began to greet the queue members.
"Thanks for coming guys" – Ben addressed the queue
"Looking forward to tonight, should be a good one" - Billy pronounced
Other pleasantries where exchanged, but as Ben passed Callum, Callum leaned toward him and said quietly.
"The Honest Arch will be pointless for us"
Callum's words confused him but Ben pretended to not hear him, and continued greeting people while Phil setup.
As people entered the venue, Ben collected their coats and mobiles, watches etc. He reminded them that once they were under the arch they must always tell the truth.
The evening sparked off quickly as you can imagine, long hidden feelings revealed on both sides. Because sometimes questions can be as revealing as any answer. In the main the effect was wonderfully soothing though, as unknowns dropped away like dry mud, and the evening was turning out to be a great success. Although, there were rumours that Sharon had admitted a desire to kiss a particular married lady on the square. But out of politeness more than anything, nobody who heard about it asked her.
Unsurprisingly Callum's comment was swimming through Ben's mind throughout all of this. And it was in a sudden haze that they found themselves speaking in the corner.
"I like you, I can see what your about and I like it, I want you, I want us to be together. Do you like me?" - Callum said to Ben without hesitation
Ben lips were pursed with words to escape, but he couldn't bring himself to say them, he had to answer the question honestly. He looked at Callum for a moment, looked beyond the jacket, the hair, the stance, the skin, the smell. He really looked at him, and he just felt warmth, that this human liked him. This wonderfully free human.
"Yes...I think I do" - Ben said shocking himself as the words came out.
Callum took Ben's hand. To Ben's surprise he felt his arm bristle and lighten, it seemed as if he and Callum where encircled by white mist.
"So now this place is pointless for us. I want to try to build an Arch together with you, with our own truths that transcend trivial truth. Outright honesty would be an insult for us. Our truth will be each others happiness and health, that's the standard of truth. Besides who are we to trust our senses. The only thing I'll trust is my sense of how you feel. That I will fall back on without looking." - Callum spoke softly and calmly as he lead Ben outside, finishing as the moonlight covered them both
"I want that too" - Ben said as naturally as if he were closing his eyes to sleep