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This story first appeared on the FlashMobWrites site back in 2016. It was my last entry there and that particular round was not judged as the competition folded. The prompt I had to include was the phrase: 'there's an old man'.
Beneath the bridge there’s an old man. He sits there every day on the broken bench staring into the murky depths of the polluted canal, not saying anything, never looking at anyone.
Those who pass him do not give him money, even though his clothes are grubby and tattered. He does not beg and he avoids their eyes. They shuffle by, pleased at not having to deal with their guilt.
Youths stride past, seeking those who walk this path alone, searching for the foolish victim. They do not bother the man. With his straight back and Versace suit, he is sure of himself. They increase their pace as they pass, each secretly pleased at avoiding the risk of being beaten to a pulp by his sledgehammer hands, of exposing their own weakness. Their voices carry back to him, bragging of what they would have done to him – if they had felt like it. His business is not with them.
Only sometimes does he turn his head.
And now is one of those times.
Today it is a woman. He has never seen her before but he knows her, has been waiting for her as he waits for all the others.
Their eyes meet.
She sits beside him on the bench and places her handbag between them. He reminds her of her late husband, with his Fair Isle sweater and weather-beaten face, the same ready smile.
She lets a crumpled photograph flutter out of her grasp, weeps as it falls into the water. When the sobs subside she turns to the man and gives him her hand, she knows he will help her.
The man lifts her fingers to his lips, kisses them softly. Then they stand and he leads his bride to the water’s edge where she gives herself in marriage, sinking down into his congregation of the lost and discarded, the despairing and the weak.
He returns to his seat, watches as the ripples slow and vanish.
And he waits.
A writer - I think that says it all.