Tall and gangly, there is something insect-like about him. A daddy-long legs. He is often there, in the University Campus’s canteen with a suitcase on wheels and a small, leather attaché case. That’s all his worldly goods, Jackie told him as he queued for coffee. He’s looking for a job, she said. Trolling back and forth, having his coffee then back through the University corridors. To where? Where does he go, the Library? How does he get in without a card? I suppose the coffee is cheapest in the canteen. Cheaper than in town. He wears the same clothes under waterproofs that stay on whatever the weather. I know that kind of wandering, that trolling. A dislocation. A not-belonging. The misery of the dispossessed. There but for the grace of God. I wish you some relief and the continuing kindness of strangers.
Nineteen killed. My once hometown. I want to feel it with them. All gone. Lives, just gone. And all my inner wrestlings come to naught, are naught. What can we do? What can I do?
We usually see him in the afternoons. He usually walks the Prom then but I’ve seen him a few mornings, early. The other day he actually looked at me, gave me eye contact. Normally he is head down and inward, his grey hair curled awry. That lurching walk, fast with a stick for support, comfort. Thin. His jeans flap around his thighs.
I saw him with her as I came out of work. He shrugged his shoulders at me, what could I do? A young student, obviously stressed, had been pulling a large, oversized suitcase down the hill from the Halls of Residence. It kept toppling over and he went to her rescue. I couldn’t leave her, he said afterwards. I offer to help and proceed to drag it down the hill to the Porter’s Lodge. I catch the relief on his face. He hasn’t the energy these days. Nor do I, not really. But it was him or me. No contest. I ask her questions as we walk. A pale-skinned girl, midriff showing, who’s off to Cardiff by coach. The suitcase is a great lumbering thing. He drives slowly alongside us. She’s going home for the holidays. I’m looking for a job, she says. I’ve got a part-time one. I do filing. All alone in a room. It’s so boring. The petrol’s too expensive so my parents are to pick me up in Cardiff. I leave her at the bus stop. When I turn round she’s dropped the contents of her handbag on the ground and is running after an empty plastic bag that is being carried by the wind across the road.
Rest in peace, my loves. Rest in peace.