A bitingly chilly wind made me draw my jacket closer even though I was sitting in the shelter of my truck. I had resigned myself to a long wait in the car park of a busy shopping centre and amused myself as always by watching the coming and going of people, vehicles and even birds. The smell of cigarette smoke bothered me, especially as I couldn’t find the source of it. The vehicle parked next to me reversed, affording me the view a man sitting on the pavement on the other side of the close-linked fence.
He was bundled up against the cold, his head covered. He sat unmoving, seemingly watching the passing traffic. Occasionally he would wave at the occupants of a vehicle or shift to straighten his back against the fence. I could still smell the cigarette smoke but it wasn’t coming from him. The temperature warmed up. I removed my jacket and he replaced his beanie with a cap.
I took in his sun-burnt features and couldn’t help wondering where he was from; what had led to him sitting on this pavement on the corner of two busy streets in the city; what he was hoping for … three women stood near him, laughing while they ate some take-away food; a man called out to him from a passing car, they waved to each other – does this mean he was a regular? A well-dressed man tossed him a coin in passing … the cigarette smoke was still bothering me, as was the heat for the shade I had parked in had moved with the sun. He had no shade. Then he rose.
More questions immediately rose to the fore. How? Why? He limped a short way and spoke to someone out of sight then crossed the street and returned with a can of coldrink. The vehicle on my right departed, allowing me to see both who he had been talking to and where the source of the cigarette smoke was coming from: a well bundled up woman (his wife?) had selected a spot with scant shade from the tree I was parked close to. Is this where they both spent their days, hoping for enough donations to feed them (and purchase cigarettes)? Where do they shelter at night?
It was time at last for me to move on. Weeks have since passed and the questions remain swirling in my mind.
We do not know their story and can neither judge nor condemn them.