In my neighbourhood walks a man of indeterminable age. He patiently ferries his belongings, all contained within an infinite number of bags, along the quiet residential streets. Whilst his route appears random, I suspect that if someone was to map it, a pattern would emerge. What thoughts occupy his mind as he treads the streets? What treasures and memories are held in those countless bags? Some of the bags are partially open, the zips ripped; the seams torn, and although I’m dying to peek, I’m just too afraid.
He is a big and sturdy man, and I suspect his hair may once have been blonde, but now it looks yellow, and he reminds me of a Cornish fisherman. His face and clothes are beyond grubby and most people give him a wide birth, carefully avoiding the possibly unpleasant risk of accidentally inhaling his stale scent.
In all the years I've seen him walk the streets, I have never seen him drunk or with a drink in his hand. I have never heard him raise his voice or seen him exhibit any signs of aggression or violence. Often, when it’s raining, I see him reading, sitting somewhere sheltered from the weather (he’s careful never to choose a residential doorway). What does he read?
A few days ago we found ourselves on the same street corner. Our eyes met and he gave me the widest, kindest smile. That smile made my day.
Yet my feelings towards him remain the same confused mess of fear and caring. I would desperately like to stop and ask him what he’s reading. I want to know his story, where he came from. But I know I will never dare.