The letter ‘Y’.
I found the drawing of the Yeti in a children’s encyclopedia I was bought for a present one Christmas. The picture took up about a quarter of a page. It was a simple line drawing with no colour and no real detail apart from the shaggy hair and the ape-like face looking out from the page towards me. He (was it a he?) was expressionless; just huge and menacing. The words in the entry told me that he lived in the Himalayas but had cousins all around the world.
Some were called Bigfoot.
They were Everywhere!? That’s what the book said. There could be a Bigfoot living on my tiny island, down by the beach. I was sure of it. He’d be able to eat left over chips and melted ice cream. There were probably a whole load of them living on the island, especially in Summer when all the tourists turned up and food was all over the sand and the pavements. Books don’t lie, especially ones that purport to be about FACTS. Bigfoot was here.
In that children’s encyclopedia, at eight years old, the letter Y was best thumbed past as generously as you could, but sometimes I’d sneak a look just to re-horrify myself the way kids do. Sometimes he’d appear in nightmares, crashing through the woods, or tearing something to pieces, or chasing fast until I couldn’t run any more. I thought about him when I was exploring the island with friends. The stupid grown-ups were too consumed with their parties, and jobs, and with smashing things, that they’d never see him. Bigfoot was too clever for them.
Through my teenage years I caught half-glimpses of him, roaming around the country lanes of Axholme, half-hidden in trees, always at the corner of my vision. He kept the ghosts company in times of stress, when the hallucinations of a blossoming mental illness were flitting in and out of sight. He would stand outside my nighttime bedroom window and listen to me whispering to the things that all the others couldn’t see; the things they would never know I sometimes saw.
He was as real to me as everything else that appeared when my mind got overburdened in my teens.
In my early twenties he didn’t visit me as much. Sometimes I’d search the internet – I saw the plaster casts of his feet, watched wild hillbillies jabbering about how fast he could run, and heard recordings of his screams. And he was safe. No-one had caught him.
When I started to get ill again in my late twenties he came back to me – standing in the pitch black at the end of the garden one night, hand up in greeting, I think he even smiled; it’s hard to tell with that face.
He came home, and decided to stay. Mostly he’s happy to visit me in periphery, calm and watchful, distant, natural. Other times he’s mad, screaming and vengeful and angry at me again, a perpetual threat. He hides well and frightens even better…
Yeti. Bigfoot. Bunyip. Sasquatch. Barmanu.
The American First Nation tribes know the truth, for them he is “The old one who runs at night.”
It’s the greatest metaphor I know.