Boo

Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Father Christmas

When I was out and about, going to the post office in my lunch break, or buying some fruit from the corner shop by my work, I often used to see him. A sturdy old man, long white beard and friendly manner, he used to stop and talk to dog-walking ladies, the endless lines of construction men working on the roads, the young mothers pushing their babies. Usually with a smile on his face, I noticed him too because he walked around with the kind of fat bellied ease that implied he owned it all, this was his home. He talked to the people who strayed into his territory and tolerated them, humoured them even, by offering them a kind word here and there. He watched them all as if he was somehow responsible, and wandered his lands with the air of someone with all the time in the world. Someone who had as little fear of dying as Father Christmas.

One morning, on my way to work, I saw him emerge from a shop doorway. Except it was no shop, he was putting plant pots out and looking around at his new surroundings. Over the weeks, the shop windows were clothed in mismatched blue and white blinds, put up in a way that covered the large expanse of glass, but had no order or charm. The plant pots multiplied, and were joined by a small table and garden chair. Some mornings he'd be out, in an old dressing gown, watering his plants, or chatting with a neighbour. When the blinds were open, the front room, with its clutter of furniture and boxes was exposed, and sometimes he was sitting, just staring, not taking anything in, just being.

A few weeks ago, I was on my way to work mentally preparing for a meeting that day. I spotted the police car from a distance and felt a tightening in my throat. As I approached, I saw there was an unmarked van alongside the police car and a group of hefty men, gathering the old man's belongings. He was nowhere to be seen. 'This shouldn't take you too long' said the policewoman, leaning against her car and puffing on a cigarette. A man with a clipboard nodded at her and laughed 'yeah, there's not much stuff.'

I walked past, resisting the urge to ask what had happened to this man I had never even exchanged a word with. Never met. Observed from afar. The door was wide open, blinds pulled back to reveal the jumble within. Was he being evicted? The old man himself was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he'd been caught squatting in the unoccupied shop, furnished by friendly donations from dog-walking ladies. Or maybe he'd moved somewhere else - won the lottery and moved to a warm location by the sea, donating his old home and its belongings to a local charity... but then why the police car? Father Christmas couldn't just disappear, there had to be an explanation I'd not yet come to.

I walk past the shop every day on my way to work. It is still empty, devoid of clutter and boxes. The terrace at the front has no plant pots or garden furniture. I never see the old bearded, fat bellied man anywhere.

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