I go out every evening. Usually between seven and eight. To go to the shop. That´s the purpose of the walk. But the reason is a need to escape. Just to get out of the house, have twenty minutes to myself, away from The Blondies, away from the house, away from noise. It´s an interval. Time to think.
I always walk the same route. And often I see the same people, people who have their own reasons for being out at the same time. The dog walkers. The joggers. The woman in her 50s who walks slowly around the block, smoking a cigarette.
There´s been a new person added to the cast list just lately. The old man. With the return of the warmer weather, he´s taken to sitting on a chair at the front door of his terraced house, catching the last of the sun´s rays before it sinks behind the row of houses opposite. In an ancient, motheaten grey jumper, and brown polyester trousers, his wrinkled face lifted to feel the warmth, rheumy eyes watering.
From the little I can see, he lives alone. There´s a bed in the room behind him. The net curtains hanging at the windows are tattered and dusty. The front door was once painted a deep bottle green, now faded to pistachio that´s cracked an peeling. There doesn´t seem to be anyone who cares for him, his house, or the overgrown small patch of front garden.
It started with a smile. One evening, on my way down the road, I caught his eye and smiled. He smiled back. A few days later, we started to wave to one another. Then a ´good evening´from both of us. A few times now, he´s commented on a flower in my hair, or I´ve said something about the weather. He´s not there every evening. Sometimes it´s raining. Sometimes I go to the shop earlier or later than normal. But on the evening´s when it´s sunny, when I´m in my usual routine, but I don´t see him, I feel uneasy. He´s old. I think maybe mid or late eighties. He looks frail. I know nothing about him, beyond the little I see from the outside. Yet I feel concern for him. That his days are drawing to an end, and when he goes, who will care? Who will mark his passing?
Will there be distant relatives descending, to claim the house by default? Will his belongings be gathered together and hurled into a skip? One or two things hawked around junk shops for a bit of cash? Will the house be stripped, modernised, new kitchen and bathroom, put on the market? Will the neighbours breathe a sigh of relief that this little corner of the Golden Triangle has been tidied up, made a little more respectable?
And who will mourn this man? Who will remember his life? Who knows his stories? To whom has this man mattered? Was he loved, once?
I don´t know. I don´t know him. I don´´t know his life. But it matters to me that he matters to someone. And now I am away on holiday. I won´t be back for a further three weeks. I wanted to see him before I went away. I wanted to tell him not to worry that he wouldn´t see me for a while. But I didn´t see him on that last night before I left. It matters to me that he´ll still be there when I get back.