He walks past the gate at precisely 3 pm each day. She hears his walking stick before she sees him, tapping the pavement in a methodical manner – tap, one two, tap, one two. Each tap is followed by a wobbly step, a precarious lift of a giraffe like leg that skims over the dead leaves that line the pavement, and the process is repeated. He’s tall, at least 6”6 in spite of a stoop. He wears a navy padded coat which falls an inch short of his waist. The tops of his bottle green and red checked socks are clearly visible as they reach up out of faded, cracked, black leather shoes and attempt, but do not quite succeed, to cover the pale exposed skin protruding from his brown corduroy trousers.
In his left hand is a cigarette, which he stops to take a drag from every third or fourth step. He wobbles slightly, and his grip tightens on the top of his stick as he slowly exhales. The smoke spirals out in front of him, curving upwards smoothly before floating across the road towards the trees on the other side.
As he gets closer she takes in more detail. The way his hair falls over his forehead and sticks in dull greasy clumps. The lines on his face, deep furrows cut into his skin that trace their way down his cheeks and blend with the mass of tiny wrinkles surrounding his pencil thin lips. Then of course there’s the smell, the final piece in her observation that takes her away from him, to her.
It’s a mixture of moth balls, dust and unrefined washing powder. Not the beautifully blended types the supermarkets stock today, oh no, this is the stuff of poor households in sanctioned countries. It encircles him, the smell that is, and in turn permeates her nostrils as he passes. She feels herself lean forwards towards him, wanting to reach out and ask ‘are you alright? Are you lonely? You look lonely. Do you have anyone to talk to?’
But she doesn’t, because she knows it’s not him she wants to ask, it’s her, and she’s gone