Gillian stepped back, put her feet together and described an area of the pavement with her hands. It was here, she said, that Carlyle saved himself from despair. He'd become a man with an emptiness where his spirit used to be. He'd lost faith in God, and belief in the Devil. He'd lost faith in love. He saw no rewards in heaven or punishments in hell. His sense of right and wrong seemed like rubbish left behind by illusions of God. It seemed that people just lived afraid of pain, and wanting pleasure. He could imagine people finding a reason for living in their work, but he had no work to show for his time on earth, He was 28 years old. Something inside him was angry but it didn't seem to have anything to do with the boredom of the universe he was stuck in. He hardly noticed other people, they were like parts in a machine to him. The world was the machine, and it didn't do him the favour of wanting him to suffer. No, because it ground him down automatically. He would have killed himself, but there was a small bit of religious teaching stuck in his brain, and anyway, he couldn't be bothered. And all the while he felt frightened. He didn't know what he was afraid of. Until he came here, to Leith Walk, and one moment he didn't know and the next moment he knew. He was frightened of death, nothing more or less, because in the end that was all there was to be afraid of. And when he knew it, he looked at death, and said: Come on, then. I'll meet you and I'll take you on. He stood there, a man still young, miserable with the grey world and his being lost in it, and he reached out over forty years ahead and shouted at death that he could see it hiding there and it might as well come out because he could look at it and still live on as a free man until the final reckoning came. And he felt so strongly and angry after that, burning up with hatred for death, and so he was alive.
John was quiet for a bit. Then he said: Let's call our first child Leith.
My surname's Walker.
Well. mine's Keith.
Come on, finish your bridie and go back to work.
John got up and stood closer to Gillian. Your hair's just like the adverts, he said. It smells like turkish delight.
(From 'The Brown Pint of Courage' by James Meek)