‘Shambles is as shambles does…’ he muttered to himself as he hirpled along the road, his shoes scuffing softly on the cobbles. ‘Just what my mother used to say….’
Sauntering past in the other direction, happily linked on the arm of her lover, Susie turned and very obviously watched the old man, as he clattered into the doorway of the newsagent and in under the jangling bell. She was having one of those days when she saw everything: the curve of his lean jaw above the twist of his scarf and his unfastened coat; the pallor of his cheeks; the way his hair, obviously unbrushed today, twisted affectionately at the back of his head. Absently, she wondered if he had eaten yet this morning.
‘Wait a minute, Alice, will you?’ she queried, giving her arm an affectionate squeeze. She turned and followed the man into the shop, aware that she was being even odder than usual today. If everyone indulged their hunches, the world would be a peculiar place….it was peculiar enough, and she hardly needed to draw attention to herself, but still.
Susie took in the slightly dusty air, the rack of newspapers and the colourful array of crisps packets and fizzy bottles near the exit. But her attention was focussed on the old man, carefully clutching a small carton of milk and rooting in his pockets for change, while the shop-keeper waited, watching a screen pinned somewhere overhead. Absently he took the pound coin held aloft in icy fingers and proffered change. The old man’s head was bent slightly forward, as if the weight of the world had warped it. Susie approached the till.
‘Are you all right?’
The old man blinked myopically.
‘Yes, thank you’ he answered, slowly and with great dignity. ‘I’m fine, thank you, young lady.’
Susie wanted to ask him if he had had breakfast, if he was eating properly. She had an absurd longing to go round to his place and make a pot of soup, switch on the radio and fill his kitchen with the clatter of domestic noise, but instead, she just smiled and said, ‘That’s fine, then. Take care of yourself.’
‘The name’s Thomas, and I live up there – …’ he pointed absently, ‘Up the hill a bit. I like to come out for my morning walk every morning. My sister tells me it does me good, though I sometimes wonder.’
‘Ena takes care of me.’
‘I’m very glad.’ Impulsively she gave the old man’s hand a squeeze. ‘I’ll see you again.’