Always Here

Sparse grey hair, weathered skin, stained trousers. His big toe pokes out of his right shoe, the left is split along the outer edge, the heel missing. He shuffles by licking a sweet wrapper. A runner disturbs pigeons pecking at the pavement.

A man, sitting near me, methodically cleans the label of a plastic bottle. First he rotates it, scrutinising the label. Stops, moistens an index finger, rubs the chosen spot in neat circular motions, inspects the label, repeats the process.
Next to him the usual carrier bags, the large roomy kind. I feel an urge to rummage, to sift through the contents of his world, wonder what the odours of his life might be? Not just the sweat and dirt of his daily life among these shelters, but the smell and taste of his memories.
A passing child, cradled in her mother’s arms, smiles shyly. He returns the smile and waves, the smallest of gestures, to which the child responds.
He sighs and I see his younger self, feel wet sand and a cold sea breeze, hear her voice, the questions she asks.

‘Where’s the bottom of the sea start?’
‘Just here. Right here where water meets sand.’
‘But where? How’s this the bottom of the sea?’
He tries to explain knowing he’ll never have the right words, she’ll never understand. He smiles at her, turns to me and I hear him say,
‘Touched by Angels, that’s what they used to say.’
A crab drifts back and forth on the incoming tide. She squats, pokes at it with a piece of driftwood.
‘Look it’s not moving. Why isn’t it moving? Is it dead?’
‘Yes, I think so. It’s dead.’
‘Will I die?’
‘Will I die? Will you forget me?’
‘No. I’ll never forget you.’
‘Why? Will I be here, inside you?’
‘Really and truly, promise?’
‘Promise. Really and truly.’
‘How, how will I know?’
‘Because you’ll be here with me chattering away as always, just like now. Like you’ve always done, always will do.’
‘Yes, like now. You promised, didn’t you.’

He touches my arm, smiles, and I have to leave.