8.30 am Christmas Day, I am walking with my dogs. The sun hits the pavement and although it is not yet at full strength, the stone is beginning to heat like a pizza oven. I am in shorts and a T-Shirt and preparing to change into smarter gear when I get home and have had a shower. The man walking towards me is already in smarter gear.
He is wearing jeans, but has a black shirt and sunglasses. He is slim and walking briskly, but slows dow when he sees the dogs.
‘Hello, hello!’ He greets the dogs. Then turns to me, ‘You know, dogs are very perceptive about people, very perceptive. They can tell if someone is a good person.’
The dogs do not attack him, which I guess means he is not bad, but they don’t exactly welcome him with open paws, either.
‘You know, they know I am a good person and I have just got out of a very bad situation. I invested in a bar with my brother-in-law. In the Philipines. We bought the place together. I put all my life savings into that bar becuse I thought my brother-in-law was a good guy but I was wrong. He ripped me off and I had to go to court, you know? In the Philipines, i had to take him to court after I got out of the business. I asked my lawyer, “How long is this going to take?” and he said, “Not long,” but it took months and months and even now I am out of money.’
‘Oh, that sounds bad,’ I say.
‘Very bad, but I am a lucky man. You know, ‘ he says, ‘I love dogs and I am gonna tell you a story. I am lucky to be alive. I was working as a welder – I am a qualified welder – and I was standing on a platform, about five feet off the ground. Well, the platform failed and I knew I was gonna fall, so I reached up to and tried to grab the ledge – you know?’
I did not know.
‘But I was wearing welding gloves and I could not get a grip so I fell with the platform and, you know? That fall saved my life.’
‘I did not want to go to the doctors so I just took anti-inflamatories for a day or so, but then the pain was so great I had to go see my doctor. I told my boss I quit and I went for an appointment. Well, the doctor took one look at me and made me go for an MRI and guess what they found?’
‘I have no idea,’ I said.
‘Cancer. They found cancer.’ They operated on my liver and I am currently attending the cancer day patient unit at hospital for cancer but I am OK. Look-‘
He lifted up his shirt to reveal… nothing really.
‘ See the scars? They operated on me but it saved my life.’
‘That is great,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I am living up the road, you know? Those new flats? I am in one of those with a mate, but the other day he complains to me that I am making too much noise with my phone, that he can hear my phone, like this..’
At this point he lifts his old phone to my ear and starts punching keys which elicit tones.
‘That is not loud, is it?’ he asks.
‘No,’ I affirm.
‘And he makes me take my shoes off before I go inside the door, and change into another pair of shoes inside the house. I have to have a pair of shoes just inside the door all the time and then he gets upset with me because I open the coffee jar the wrong way. He wants the seal broken into a certain way, but I have just stuck the spoon in – is that so wrong?’
‘I don’t think so,’ I say.
‘I don’t think so, either. I think – forgive me – I think that you are a good person. How old do you think I am?’
He removes his sunglasses to reveal his face. He has no hair.
‘I am sorry,’ I say, ‘but I have absolutely no idea.’
‘Just guess,’ he says.
‘I cannot,’ I say.
‘Fifty eight! I am fifty eight,’ he declares.
‘I would never have guessed that,’ I admit.
I can see he is about to launch into another story. So far, he has almost managed to deliver his tale, like the Ancient Mariner, without pausing to breathe.
‘I have to go’ I say.
‘Oh yeah,’ he says, ‘Sure, sure, sure.’ And almost immediately starts scanning the area over my shoulder for his next audience.
‘Bye,’ I say, ‘Merry Xmas.’
‘Yeah, sure good bye to you and your two lovely dogs.’
I do not look back as I continue up the road, but feel confident that his next stop, the local shop, will provide him with plenty of audience.