Room With A View

Cold morning light. Runners, dog walkers, people on their way to work passing shelters already vacated. Sleeping bags, carrier bags, holdalls stowed under benches.
Apart from one shelter.
Strands of grey hair escape from a bundle of blankets covering one of the benches on the seaward side, a bulging holdall takes up space in the corner of the other bench. Next to it, wrapped in a red blanket, a man sits smoking. Close cropped hair, trimmed beard, weathered skin. He shuffles, hoists the blanket around his shoulders, coughs. Scowls, mutters to himself, shakes his head. A pigeon forages on the pavement near his feet.

‘Listen. What did someone say? We’re all three pay slips away from the street? Maybe. And perhaps there’s at lot that’s closer than they’d like to be, state of this country.
I knew a man and all he wanted to do was walk and drink, drink and walk, until he needed a place to dry out, recuperate. He’d head to a night shelter for a bit of a rest and then he’d be off again. He wasn’t harming anyone, except maybe himself.  Another tells you he doesn’t need people. Values isolation, although he might not see it like that. So we don’t know what’s going on? Can’t see farther than the ends of our wasted noses?’

He pulls the blanket tighter round his shoulders, settles, relaxes.
‘Nice day isn’t it? Bit grey, a little chilly. Tends to be quieter along here when the weather’s like this. You out for a walk then? Got a fiver you can lend me?
‘No, sorry. Just out for a wander.’
‘Nice morning for it.’
I watch a young gull search for scraps on the pavement.

He doesn’t respond when I say goodbye. His arm propped on the holdall, head turned away, he sits staring out along the prom.