In the paltry shade of the awning he sat waiting for a bus like the rest of us, on a bench outside the waiting room just like the rest of us. But he was not like the rest of us.
The rest of us; motley at first glance and insular – t-shirts and skimpy tops, flip flops and sandals, tans, sunglasses, headscarves and hats. We lounged and leant and waited – heads down or turned away – using our opposable thumbs to text someone or change an mp3 or merely to fiddle with tech. Closely guarded personal space and micro-managed eye contact – all summery ennui and sweat. A dozen or so people and a dozen or so different worlds. The usual bus stop suspects.
For all our detachment and informality, we were uniform.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a Stetson in real life. It was a long time ago anyway and in America, where you might reasonably expect it. His was very large, gleaming white and kept in its box at home judging by its immaculate condition. It had that rigidity you don’t see in cowboy movie hats. Beneath it his jowled face was soft and old, wizened and proud. Very old, his grey straggle gathered in a pony tail, eyes beady, bright and calmly looking ahead; a long distance stare across space and time that none of the rest of us could hope to emulate. His posture was stiff and formal; confident but not comfortable.
A man who had lived and also perhaps a man who had not been out for a while.
His liver spotted hands rested on the handle of a white cane which he held at a jaunty, deliberate angle – the tip resting on the ground between his polished, white, laceless shoes. No toe tapping or crossing of feet here; his were still, sheathed in white socks, planted squarely and spaced at a sitting swagger.
He wore a pure white suit – tailored for his younger self and hanging a little now on his antique frame, but still a magnificent sight. In the midst of all these jaded singularities he alone inhabited not merely his own reality but ours too. We shared him as he disdained us. He was larger than we were; clearer and brighter.
And more fragile – one could easily imagine the pleasure an egged-on teenager might take in teasing someone who cut so fine a figure. We can be so intolerant of the individual – for all our talk of individualism – and none more so than the young. Thankfully, in this conservative and well-mannered town, he was left to himself.
I am not young and I admired him. If I had had my camera with me I might have mustered the nerve to ask him for a photograph. I could see the images in my mind already – colourless and still, the lines of his age thrown into relief by the afternoon sun, the suit shining, his unwavering gaze, the pupils of his eyes…but how does one ask for a thing like that, without risking offence, without inadvertently recalling for him unpleasant encounters with the uncomprehending?
His white tie was clipped and flawlessly knotted and I wondered where he was going. To keep what kind of appointment? I thought I could safely assume he wasn’t on his way to a funeral, though he must have seen a few. Off into Algeciras for a final tryst with an old love. A solemn engagement that he had carefully arranged because he had something to get off his chest. Something that, said, would help him sleep a little easier.
Or a defiantly dressed sortie to confront an ingrate son. Or a lovingly anticipated meeting to reconcile a squandered friendship. Or a ritualised expedition to the bedside of a wife nearly dead – the suit’s last outing. I had questions for this man and I felt like asking them. I wanted to play Carlos Castaneda to his Don Juan. But I didn’t – I kept to my own trajectory, as straight and narrow as the pristine crease down the front of his white trousers. Later, I regretted it.
His shirt was black.
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