When I last saw Zachary he was held between two policemen, blood on his face, his chest bare, the samurai sword he’d fetched from his flat to attack his neighbour with lying on the back seat of the patrol car. Now he is sitting quietly on his own at a table for two in a gastro pub, a fluorescent Little Monkeys baseball cap pulled down low, one hand on his lap and the other draped across a chess board.
One of the bar staff points in his direction and waves us over. The pub has been open half an hour, but even though it only has a scattering of customers, there is a strong sense of margin around this particular section of the bar.
‘Hello Zachary,’ I say. ‘We met a few days ago. You’d been in a fight.’
‘Fight? I’d hardly call it a fight.’ He bobs his head and smiles with a patronising stretch of the mouth. ‘A fight is when two warriors come together for the purpose of practising their art. A fight is a mutual exchange of physical power. I was engaged in a struggle for my very existence on this so-called planet. For some reason – and I’ve studied the problem at a very high level for many years, my friend – as I say, for some reason, there are forces in this world that simply do not want me to live. Can not allow me to live.’
‘Would you like to come with us out to the ambulance, and then we can see what we can do to help?’
‘Of course. Could you just help me with my chess board – careful! It’s a thousand years old, almost certainly the most valuable object in town today.’
He hands me a crudely knocked up article in pine with a chipped walnut veneer and a rickety drawer slung underneath.
‘Oops! Looks like the drawer’s coming off.’
‘It’s a thousand years old. What do you expect? Be very careful my friend.’
The barman smiles and waves.
Outside on the ambulance Zachary lowers himself carefully into one of our chairs, and I sit opposite him on the trolley. I put the chess board down next to me.
‘It’s an exquisite object,’ he says. ‘I acquired it in my travels. Hand built by one of the sacred knights of El Cid. I expect you’ve seen the film. Have a look at the figures. Incredible craftsmanship.’
The drawer has lost its ability to slide out. You have to lift the board up to get to the pieces – a throw of roughly cast nickel figures. I hold up the king. His beard looks like a glob shaken off a soldering iron.
‘I had to come in to town to find food and water. I have no “money”, so I brought something to trade with. You’d think that I could swap a thousand year old chess set for something to eat and drink, but this world has no honour, no love, nothing for me or my kind.’
I put the king back.
‘So how can we help today, Zachary?’
‘I need to go to Southview and talk to the medical experts there. It’s been a difficult time for me and I need some help.’
‘We can certainly take you down the hospital and find you someone to talk to, if that’s what you’d like?’
He winces and bends at the waist.
‘I have pain all over. Chest pain, stomach. My arms and legs are full of cramps.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He takes off his baseball cap and lobs it onto the trolley. He has dyed his stubby Mohican purple and orange. It runs back to front along the crown of his head like a strip of carpet, whilst around it the scarred and lumpen skin of his skull rises and falls, features on a raised-relief map, the hard ground beneath his shifting monologue.
‘I'm a samurai - but you know that. Since I saw you I’ve had three fights in the temple. Training fights, I can’t say much. But I’m sorry to say that I've been thrown out. Yakumoja has spoken. He has said, and I quote: “You have chosen the way of the fool and not the way of the wise man.” I think that was from Lord of the Rings. Saruman vs. Gandalf. Christopher Lee vs. Ian Holm - or Ian Mckellen, I can never remember which. One of them is gay. Don't know about the other one.’
The ambulance lurches off the pavement. Zachary groans, but quickly recovers himself.
‘I'm a genius. It may sound big headed to say it. Maybe it doesn't. But a fact’s a fact. Anyway, it's not my judgement. Mr Stephen Fry has met five Prime Ministers, and he has put it on record that not one of them could stand toe to toe in the grid against me.’
‘My daughter is amazing. She’s confounded all the experts. She's like Mahatma Gandhi, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ all rolled into one. Elvis Presley himself would not have a thing on her. She's incredible, remarkable. Maths, Physics, Cookery, The Arts. So why society has such a problem with us, won't let me be with her, won't allow me to live .. I don't know.’
‘We're going on a world trip. We’re getting out of this place. Europe, Africa, South America. Perhaps I'll meet ambulance people in those countries. Or maybe not. Hopefully we'll just be travelling around, quietly and anonymously, following The Code, learning, teaching, observing.’
Zachary stares through the slats of the window at the busy afternoon crowds, gently spidering his fingers backwards and forwards along the multi-coloured strip of hair.
‘Feeding the poor,’ he says.