Monday, June 15


March, cold, drizzling. I was returning to the city on a bus full of raindrops and permed hair. I stood by the window and watched the quiet streets stretch along. It was by the river that I saw the elderly gentleman I'd served a cappuccino to every day in the cafe last summer ("not too much froth, just a touch of chocolate"). His stooped lope was painfully familiar to me, but his white hair was longer, still thin on top but puffed out like a white cloud or an Elizabethan ruff around his neck. The drizzle came down heavier now and as the bus swept past I caught a glimpse of him, paused on the stone steps up from the river, trying to extend his umbrella as rainspots flecked his beige trousers.
I thought about the gentleman for the rest of my journey. I thought about his life, every day the same walk, the same cafe, the same order, the same paper. I wondered if he ate the same meals every day and watched the same television programmes. How different his existence was to the lives of the people around me in London, so busy and spontaneous and hectic and unscheduled. I remembered that he was well into his eighties; that he'd lost his wife a few years ago; that he had a son, a tall hairy chap who would occasionally join him for soup in the cafe. And sometimes on a Saturday the gentleman would be accompanied by his best friend of over fifty years (I know this because one day this friend - wiry, energetic, chatty - showed us an entry from his diary of 1963 detailing his first shift as an engineer at the local television studios, where the gentleman also worked - they've been good pals ever since). This friend always referred to the gentleman as 'Chaz'.
I was sure Chaz's life as a studio engineer would've been just as busy as the London lives I witnessed now. I wondered what he made of his past, and whether he was able to link his youth and career to the quiet, loping routines of his existence now, to the silent effort of trying to unfurl an umbrella on a rainswept, empty street.

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