Sunday, July 10, 2016
I wrote this as a draft last year but fine-tuned it today. The location is real but not the characters.
The trams clanged past and men and women in black surged towards their offices. My bones were aching and I had not brought my stick through sheer anxiety about being thought old and useless. Near the cathedral a park bench beckoned though a senior kind of man was sitting there. I couldn’t walk any further, even to go up several steps to move inside the Anglican cathedral for respite.
I took out my takeaway cappuccino and blueberry muffin I had bought at Macdonalds opposite. I suppose I could ignore the man. He seemed to be one of those ‘bring me your tired, your poor’ kind of person, in a shabby jacket, unpolished shoes (like mine) one unlaced. Perhaps he sleeps in the sheltered walkway behind the cathedral. He was leaning back, his eyes closed as he fiddled with his fingers. His face was craggy and he had a speckled grey beard. A plastic bag lay at his feet and I could smell the remains of hot chips which had drawn a congregation of seagulls.
As I sat down he stirred and opened his eyes. Perhaps I should share my muffin, so I broke it in half and offered him a share on a paper napkin. I remembered our minister had talked about a circle and how we list family and friends in the centre, but the homeless, the refugee, the stranger are on the outer.
I sipped the coffee, put the half-muffin away, and took out my A4 sketchbook which is my habit in daytime visits to Melbourne. I started to block in his lean limbs and body, a cathedral doorway a nice background to suggest the irony of the poor and the elaborate building. My 6B pencil skimmed over the cartridge paper, quickly outlining the elements of the composition.
The man moved nearer to me, scanned the sketch and said, ‘You’ve got that right.’ His voice was not bogan but a pleasant tenor. Educated in fact.
The air was shimmering in the late afternoon light and shadows formed shapes on the cathedral wall. I felt pleased, puffed up with pride in my ability to speak with a stranger.
‘I’d better go back to work, ‘ the man exclaimed after he glanced at his watch.
I didn’t answer that one.
He undid his jacket, flung it into his supermarket bag and he had a nice black shirt on and a large cross dangled from his neck, the kind tourists buy in Jerusalem. ‘I have to prepare for Evensong, ‘ he said.
A clergyman? They often do look shabby these days!
‘I have to play the Widor Toccato which is a challenge these days.’
Oh, he’s the organist!
‘I love that one, ‘I enthused. ‘I’ve downloaded it - illegally of course - from the internet, but I can’t play much of it. So fast. My fingers…you know. And my slowing brain.’ I was chattering on, talking hey presto like that music.
He gave me a wicked grin, revealing fine gold tipped teeth. He wasn’t a homeless man sleeping in the shadows at all. I must stop speculating about people, turning them into my fictional characters.
He slowly stood up from the garden bench, bearing his weight on his hands and arms. He leaned down with care to tie up a shoelace.
He’s probably got arthritis, just like me.
‘Well I might pop into Evensong and catch a later train home,’ I told him. ‘I’m not an Anglican but. ..’
‘That’s excellent,’ he said. He stood up awkwardly and limped towards the Cathedral side door. And I’m sure he was thinking, now I’ve invited that bag lady into our cathedral. What next!
He’s into my inner circle now.