He shuffled from the kitchenette to the door of the flat. In his hand the bowl of cat food. Setting the bowl down he reached for his jacket. Checking the cat was distracted, he slipped out the door, as fast as his ailing body could carry him. He locked the door. A young man passed him in the corridor, no greetings were exchanged. Down the stairs. Checked the post box. Nothing. Through the front door, to be hit by the fury and fumes of North Circular Road traffic.
Pass in hand he waited alone with all the others. All so young. So young that foreign becomes meaningless. There were all alien to him. A noisy mess of otherness. Things that passed by and around and if they thought they could, then thought him too.
The bus arrived. An impatient grunt told him his boarding lacked the alacrity of a Dublin day. His speckled hand gripped harder the bar, as he searched each pocket for his pass. Panic rising, had he forgotten it after all?
A voice, drip dripping with patronising bonhomie, “It’s in your other hand granddad.”
The chuckles cut. He looked at his hand, tight gripping the bar, crushing the plastic covered pass. He searched desperately for another bar, not wanting to risk a careless driver jerking the bus back into traffic. No longer first in the queue, these aliens had all pushed by. Paying or carding or passing, all transactions done in unconcerned flashes. The driver had already lost interest. Old was old, who would question a man so wrinkled and infirm? The privilege of being a condition.
As he’d expected the bus jerked hard. He kept to his feet, two hands on the bar. This was not how he’d hoped he would reach town, but to move now was to risk sprawl and all, that would entail. A score, perhaps even two, of these aliens brushed by him, entering and exiting by he same door, not seeing him on the way in and not seeing him on the way out.
His knees ached. His back complained. His hands screamed in their vice-like grip of the bar. But there finally was bold Parnell atop his column. And there, that alien antennae, piercing the sky. His stop, one hand then the other, relaxed their hold. He moved into the crowd, disrupting the flow. And like a fallen tree in a running river, a gap opened before him and a jostling crowd began to stack behind him.
One slow foot after the next, and he was street level. He carefully remembered not to take an immediate pause. He moved his slowing frame out of the now rereleased stream. Only then could he take the reward of rest. Breathing and flexing and allowing himself to relax. Minutes passed, before he was ready. He walked to the shiny alien metal and with his back to it, he looked up Henry Street. It was lunch-crowd full. Hundreds of these not seeing things, ears stuck to their communication devices. Their alien speech directed at the never there.
He took out a notebook and examined his list. Name after name, crossed out. He turned a page, then another. He saw yesterday’s mark. Below it, unscored. Today’s target. Putting away the notebook he crossed the road. Around him he sensed only the chaos of speed and disregard. He kept is eyes on the ground, always conscious of being tripped-up by the merest thing.
There was Moore Street. He paused here to look further up Henry Street. In the distance he could see his goal. Jervis Street Shopping Centre. Breath retrieved, he walked. A glacial arrow cutting its way through the madding crowd.
Two more breaks and near endless shuffling and he was there, facing the glass edifice of his quarry. He didn’t wait. He reached out a hand and then took it down again, as the door greeted him by opening unbidden. He didn’t allow the minor unsettling, vex him. He continued, even finding his feet on those soulless moving stairs.
And there it was. A shoe shop. He straightened the long scarce strands of hair, over his bare head. He walked in and paused to identify the men’s section. He walked to it and sat on a chair. Then it happened. Everything slowed. There was a voice.
“May I help you Sir?” It was a young voice. The accent unidentifiable to him, but it was directed at him. He breath shallowed, his heart slowed and his face relaxed into a smile.
“Thank you Miss, I would like to purchase a pair of brown leather shoes.”
“Of course Sir. Do you know what size you take?”
“An eight and a half. I remember a time when I was a nine, but Mother Time takes her toll in unexpected ways.”
Ah, she knows when to laugh as well. His smile broadened. She left for a few moments, returning, burdened with half a dozen boxes. She placed the boxes at his feet and looked at him. “Will I help you try them on Sir?”
He nodded. She knelt and undid his laces. “Did you have far to travel today Sir?”
“No, only a few minutes for me. I live on the North Circular.”
“And you picked a fine day for it. I brought a raincoat and an umbrella to work today. Seems like the weather likes to make fools of us.”
He took his turn to laugh. In short order he was wearing her first suggestion. He stood, taking her offered arm to help him up. He looked at them. He examined them in the mirror. Their conversation never faltering. After two pair, they knew each other’s names.
After the third, they learned that her people were from unpronounceable Białystok, his from far off Lyreacrompane. By the fourth pair, he was speaking of his late wife. Her slow death and the relief it had been at the end. She showed him photos of her children. Smiling little Polish boys in their Dublin jerseys. On trying the last pair he shrugged and demurred. Nothing was exactly as he wanted. He would try elsewhere, but return for that pair with the extra support for his arches, if he could find nothing that really grabbed him.
She smiled and the world remained slow for a few moments more. Old shoes on, he left the shop. He stepped lightly on the stairs. All was slow. Someone pushed by him and his smiled disappeared. He paused before the doors, took out his notebook and scored through the shop name. He sighed as he contemplated the long journey back to his flat. But no, he would not despair. Today someone heard his voice. Spoke his name. Tomorrow he would visit another shop. He could not be dead if people speak his name.
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