Friday, 10 March 2006

His timing, strangely perfect

I go the same route to work every day. I leave the train, usually at platform 1, walk through Waverly station, up the stairs and toward Market Street. From there I am less than a minute's walk to the shop.
There are weeks when I see him four days out of five, shuffling along in his dirty, oversized winter coat (blue with great smears of soot - black that has lost its edge) and his half-full backpack hanging crooked. He's always carrying at least one bag of shopping and I can never tell what's in it. He wears a hat - kind of a tweed flat cap that old men wear. I couldn't even guess how old he is - he walks at such a stoop I can't see his face. I know his cheeks are slightly swollen, I know his bulky outline under his jacket, and I know that the hair that sticks out from under his hat is dark brown and extremely greasy. He walks so slowly, with extreme care and patience, like he is afraid he will crush something fragile.
Everyday the same routine. If I stop in the station or if my train is late, I do not see him. When I don't see him for many days, I grow anxious. I worry about this man about whom I know nothing. Today I saw him again, his blank stare seeming to light the way ahead of him on the sidewalk. As soon I turned the corner and he came into view, a great feeling of relief came over me. "He's still OK," I thought.
Small pieces, familiar moments in my day - sometimes I cling to them in a way that surprises me. After the man with the shopping bag I look for the man in the Fruitmarket Cafe who is smoking and cleaning the floor. He wears a long, greying ponytail and sometimes stands in the doorway when he's finished work, a soft scowl pulling down his features. I also know where the various Hare Krishna monks and nuns work, selling cds and books on the street. Michelle stands near Waverly station on Prince's Street, the baby-faced man is always near Castle Hill, and the dark-skinned beauty wanders near South Bridge. Sometimes I buy them milk, offer a shy "gouranga" before marching away over the cobblestones.

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