She walks down a crowded street, baby clutched in her thin arms. Held tightly to her chest, protective arms forming a cocoon, shielding it from the world. Every person passing is a possible threat, each elbow that brushes a danger. Her head whips around, an attempt to scan every direction at once. Her clothes hang slack from her emaciated shoulders, weariness drips from the slack muscles around her eyes.
The child stirs in confusion, absorbing the panic emanating from it's mother's cradling arms.
And I see the despair, the loss, in its mothers searching eyes.
Quickly he strides, under an oak tree, past circle benches, towards pay parking and his ride. A plastic bag swings madly, brushing creased trousers, clutched far more tightly than its size requires. Cheeks flushed red, and sweaty fabric are testament to his haste. The sound of deep breaths, loud enough to hear from this distance, far too ragged to be healthy. Far too strained to be the result of exertion alone.
I wonder at the contents of his small plastic bag, wonder whether he's simply carrying a thing, or something to excite. Something to hold, and treasure...something to bring a smile to his weathered face.
The small muscles surrounding his eyes constantly twitch, writhing in seemingly random directions. As he powers towards a safer destination, I wonder if he even notices the battle his face fights any more..
He shuffles through this late night cafe, in the cold air of a winter’s night. Like a sea parting, faces and bodies turn away from his slow moving form, from the dirt on his face, his hands. He doesn't seem to notice, as he walks straight towards me. Takes a seat at my table, and pulls a single sheet of paper from the folder, lovingly held in his dirty hands. He wants to know if I'd like to purchase one of his drawings, his dream visions in charcoal. The piece of paper I look at, he's picked out, just for me.
Faces and eyes are still turned away all around me, from the filthy man, daring to invade their latte paradise. I don't know if he believed me when I told him that my meal would be purchased on plastic, I had no cash to spare. Instead he paid me in words, when he told me my face was chiselled, beautiful. His voice....so much gentler than his exterior allowed.
His eyes were glazed...misted, looking at something I don't know. I'm sure many people looked, and decided it was alcohol, drugs. Maybe I would have been the same before that night, but now I know. His eyes reflect a different light to mine.
On a quiet street, we're walking towards each other, sidewalk tables half deserted, line our approach. Slightly overweight, twice my age, wearing an ill-fitting business shirt, badly tucked into his trousers. The first thing I notice is his red bow tie, and I wonder at someone who would wear such a thing these days. I'm reminded of other bow tie wearing people I've known before - strange, aloof, totally unlike anyone I'd walk up to, attempt a conversation.
We take steps closer to each other, and I begin to make out small details, such as the white dots, breaking up the red. The way the swing of his arms seems so much more emphasised than mine. Lastly - almost too late - I notice the twinkle in his eyes.
And I wonder, does he see the envy in mine?