The old man gripped the cold, rusted railings as he steadied himself against the biting gusts of windswept rain. He pulled his flat-cap down towards his ears, gazing across the busy, urban carriageway toward the old church where he was born; standing tall, its familiar spire stretched up as if reaching out for the cloud-covered moon. Its long-silent bells rusting, its once-beautiful windows obscured with the grime of half a century of London traffic.
He pulled his shoddily patched trenchcoat tighter around his neck, and clenched his eyes against the stinging rain as another coughing fit took hold. Loose fluid in his lungs rattled his ribcage as he winced with the pain, waiting for a break in the almost unceasing flow of vehicles to allow him to cross. But in London, the traffic never stops.
His eyes remained on the church. It was on this street corner that he had met her, and it was in this church that he had married her, the most beautiful girl in the world. She had saved his life during the war. Her memory, that smile, his longing for their future together had kept him alive during his years of service. For five long years he had fought; not for country, nor for freedom, but for her and her alone.
The wind and rain grew stronger, he held onto his hat as blasts of icy air exploded raindrops over his face. Tears began to fill his eyes as he turned downwind, grasping his hat and shuffling painstakingly to the adjacent bus shelter; his rotting old boots absorbing the contents of every litter-strewn puddle. He didn't see the girl until he was inside, she was young, perhaps seven or eight years old, with straight dark hair and wearing a warm jacket which reminded him of his old flying coat. Her face was dirty, her trousers were torn, but she wore a curious, content smile on her face. She perched on the edge of the bench and shuffled herself up to make space, motioning with her hand to take a seat. He slowly negotatied his aching body onto the bench and, after another fit of coughs and splutters, eventually sank into position.
He turned to look at the girl, she had dark brown eyes, just like hers. Her hair reminded him of her hair on the day they had met on this very spot. He wanted to ask the girl's name, he wanted to know why she was alone in a place like this. If, like him, she had nowhere to go and nobody to care, but most of all, he wanted to tell her his story. But he couldn't; he had never told anyone, he had saved his story for her all these years and it was almost time to tell it. For a moment it seemed to him that the girl understood, she smiled, showing neither fear nor judgement and continued humming to herself as her legs swung daintily beneath the bench. Her smile made his heart melt, and just for a a fleeting moment, his permanent frown softened.
He had flown spitfires at ten thousand feet wearing nothing but sleeping garments, he had bailed into the Atlantic in mid-winter, and he had marched through the cold desert at night, but never before had he felt this cold. He could see the breath of the girl from the corner of his eye, she was blowing clouds of it into the air and attempting to cut through it with her fingers, she didn't look so cold. His breaths were so short and lifeless, they were barely visible.
Still, his eyes remained on the church. She was buried there, across the road of traffic which never stopped. It hadn't stopped since the day it took her from him so cruelly, just a week before his return from the war. He had never summoned the courage to visit that grave. The church which had brought him into the world, that had watched him grow old and meet the woman of his dreams had become a place of grief; a place into which, for over fifty years, he had not had the strength to set foot.
It was nearly time. He tried to stand but fell back to the bench, coughing into his sleeve, struggling for air. Through his watery eyes he saw the figure of the girl before him, reaching out to help him up. He took her delicate hand, even with his starved figure she had to heave and puff with all of her effort to pull him to his feet. The look in her eyes was of pure compassion. She had not judged him, nor tried to understand him. They had not spoken a word but they shared this moment together, two souls lost in a world they did not understand. He nodded his gratitude and turned solemnly to face the church.
The girl sat down, still kicking her legs and humming as she watched the frail old man suck in his breath and edge his way back toward the glistening road, fighting the wind and rain, pulling his collar tight, looking left and right, waiting...
...But in London, the traffic never stops.