He knots his fingers and flexes his hands jerkily, leaves clean stripes on his arm and neck when he rubs hard. My lip twitches with sadness at his grimy hand trembling. Eyes down, glued to his boots, they’re good boots. He startles onlookers with his strange muttering. I’m only a step away or at least a short distance from him. My gaze wanders across his prematurely lined features and the weathered cloth of his twine tied coat. I catch the eye of my passing waitress, who nods knowingly. I wave my fingers, more chewed than she would have seen before, so quickly fist them away, out of sight. She returns with a bag for takeout. I keep watch as I settle the bill. Coffee spilt due to its weight on the wobbly-legged table. Her eyes pool as she apologises while wiping it up. She rips the cover from her note pad expertly folds it then squats to push it under the leg. I think ‘If only it could be that easy to fix everything. Her smile is kind. Blinks away the telltale tears undercover of the table. Nods once looking back towards the road. Her shoulders slump, and with a sigh, she continues to clear tables. My explanation spilt out six months ago when I first found him. Now it sits like secrets between spies ‘A nods as good as a tapped nose.’ Dad used to say when we were kids. We loved telling him it was wrong. “No, it’s a nod is as good as a wink,” We would taunt. He doesn’t joke much anymore; not one of us does.
I wipe my eyes with a paper napkin that I am twisting thoughtlessly in my fists. I hold my breath as I watch. Martin takes too much time manoeuvring unseen enemies and mined traps. I am counting his steps, speaking out loud. I am startled to silence by a mumbled word (Crackpot) coming from a suited man brushing past me. Four minutes it took for him to walk six feet of the busy pavement. The lunchbreak office staff, bankers, business people and shoppers moan and gripe as he blocks their path and swallows a moment of the hour of freedom they have. A pensioner’s rheumy eyes spot him. He nods knowingly, pats his arm and dodders on.
Martin is opposite me, with only one road to cross. But I am hopeful today, whisper > today I will be successful <. He stoops, scans the tarmac, takes an audible breath and runs as if his life depends on it weaving towards me. I stand, my face pulls the biggest of grins I feel my arms start to lift. Then a horn blasts, I see him freeze, a voice shouts obscenities at him. And just like that, he is gone. There is no point in chasing him. I learned the hard way how that goes. No, I will try again tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that no doubt there will be. With sisterly love and a heavy heart, I tip the server, straighten my back and fasten my coat. Before I leave, I pause to pass a raggedy bundle in a shop doorway the bag of food that Martin did not get. For we never know their story, we only see the remnants of what was.
Too many of our ex military, police, medics Firemen and others are left broken by the trauma they see and clear up every day. This flash fiction is a glimpse at that, a speck of what we know is on our streets, in our towns and villages. Broken discarded people #MentalHealth. Please comment leave me your thoughts below.