I was walking down the hill from the Arts Centre after visiting the Ceramics Festival and feeling a little unwell when I saw him. He looked like something from the Victorian times, a Dickens character from the streets of London. He was shuffling, no more like rolling, down the road ahead of me. I could only see his back. He was hunched over, his back like a hump and he wore a mid-length black coat and dirty khaki trousers that bunched around his ankles. There was a large circular urine stain down the legs of his trousers. When I did catch sight of his head which I could now see was almost covered in a black woolen hat, I saw his long grey beard and hair. He stopped sometimes to reach down to the ground to pick up something. Was this the man that he told he sees frequently picking up dog-ends from the ground? Where does he live? Who looks after him? How is it he has got to this state of degradation? Does he have a place to live? Does he have food to eat? Can it be that people still live this way in our so-called civilised society?

I’m English, said one of the so-named ISIS brides from the camp in Syria that the BBC correspondent was reporting from, and we don’t have enough food. The report was harrowing. They are trapped. No one wants them. Dressed in black from head to toe, their eyes are the only thing you see. They do not communicate. Except for this one girl.

I am twice moved.

We are both out of sorts. I have a bug and he is fearful. It comes and goes, it always will. It only takes a flicker of something like anxiety and he, like Chicken Licken, thinks the sky will fall in. It won’t. It will pass. But I must be kind. I must listen to him, not try to bully him into wellness.

I saw them ahead of me before I turned to walk up through the Buarth. They must have turned around for suddenly they were behind me, crawling with their blue light flashing. Bugger, I whispered, knowing I’d have to unhook my headphones and speak to them. Anything wrong? I asked after they’d wound down the passenger window. There were two of them, a man and woman, though it was too dark for me to see their faces. You OK? the driver, the man, asked. I’m fine, I said, just walking, is that OK? Sure, he said. We just wondered what you had in your hand. A torch? I said, holding up the tiny silver torch I had in my right hand. And in the other hand? he asked. I haven’t got anything in my other hand, I said, trying not to sound defensive. What can they mean? We thought we saw something long and thin, he said. Do you want to search me? I asked. No, that’s OK, he said winding up the window before driving off. I felt irritated, somehow a little violated by the encounter. He was non-plussed when I told him of it. It’s  night time and it is odd to be walking about. They are just doing their job, he said. Maybe he is right. It’s more the feeling it engenders, that of defensiveness, I suppose. And I am odd. So there we are.

I need to rest today. After the washing is done. Take it easy. Sunday morning. Coffee first. I shouldn’t really. I just want the smell. Glorious.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.