The businessman never noticed him, people generally didn’t. Whether because they really didn’t see him or it was a conscious avoidance of the uncomfortable, he wasn’t sure. He knew he wasn’t pretty but he tried to keep himself in order. He’d learned over the years how to stay invisible, to recognise kindness, developed an instinct to avoid trouble and to be gracious. He was first in the supermarket every morning, into the bathroom where he stripped off and washed. Sunday Opening had seemed a bonus, the supermarket was open seven days a week except it opened very late which messed with his routine.
Thirty years he’d been on the road. His food came from bins at supermarkets and restaurants. Twice a year, spring and autumn, he updated his clothes and shoes at the same charity shop, the cancer one down the side street, where the manageress let him in early before the punters arrived. He chose what he needed and she would put her own money in the till. Often she added a book to his pile, something she thought he’d like. A poetry anthology one year, a guide book to the birds of Britain and Europe another. She never refused his need if he turned up with an extra request, but he had only done it one hard winter when she gave him a duvet.
Out the back of the Cherry Café, out of sight of the customers drinking their cappuccinos and eating croissants, there was a white plastic chair squeezed between two large dustbins. After he’d washed at the supermarket, he arrived at the back door of the Cherry Café. Five minutes after his light knocking on the window, the owner came out with toast and a boiled egg. He ate, sitting squished between the bins. On a bad day, this was all he got to eat.
Today was April 1. Soon there would be wild food to pick from the verge. He had learned to respect April which could burn like summer and freeze like the hardest January. Fresh grass shoots tasted better than nothing if it was a bad day. Today his ankle ached, had ached since he fell down the library steps he can’t remember when, now it ached every cold wet day and some warm ones too.
He sat on the bench near the roundabout and watched the businessman peel open the plastic sandwich wrapper, watched him eat every crumb. He watched him take an apple from his briefcase, polish it on his trousers then take a bite. He watched the man’s lip curl as he spit the apple mush onto the ground. He watched as the businessman threw the apple over his shoulder. He watched the businessman walk away, hawking unnecessarily.
Amongst the new shoots of bracken lay the red apple, one crescent moon of white flesh bared. And one brown scab, the size of a baby’s fingernail.
He polished it on his trousers and took a bite. And spring finally arrived.
© Sandra Danby
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