NaNoWriMo novel part 17

I’m walking fast. Faster than my legs can carry me almost. I never understood that saying properly until now. I had to get out of that flat. Too imposing. Space. I need space. I’m pounding along the pavement focussing on the cracks between paving slabs. Don’t want to make eye contact with anyone in case they recognise what I’m feeling. I don’t want to recognise what I’m feeling. I don’t know where I am. I don’t care. Just got to keep moving.
“Got 10p mate?” I shake my head in the general direction of the gruff voice. “It’s just I’ve nearly got enough for a cuppa and it’s bloody cold sittin ere.”

It takes me a few metres to register what the bloke said. I stop. I pull out my wallet. I’ve got cash. I turn back and slowly walk towards him. He’s sitting on a square of cardboard with his legs crossed, like a buddha. His arms are folded and he rubs his upper arms as I approach. He’s wearing a dark woolly hat. Grey hair sticks out beneath it.  He’s watching me walk. Am I friend or foe? I crouch at his side.
“I’ll buy you a cuppa and a bite to eat if you like?” I can’t quite look him in the eye so I look at the sparkly bits in the pavement instead.
“Depends what you want in return mate.” He laughs.
“I don’t want anything. I just- Well, I’ve got money and you haven’t so I thought I’d help out.”
“And you want some company do ya?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“All right. Come on then.” He gets to his feet and stamps them for a while. “Gotta get the old circulation going again! Know what I mean?” He chuckles and reaches for the cardboard square. “Know any good all night cafes?”
I shake my head, “I don’t know where I am.”
“Oh, it’s like that is it? Well I know plenty. Always up for knowing one more though. Come on. We’ll go to Dick’s Place round the corner.”
I shove my hands in my pockets and walk alongside him. He walks quite quickly for a tramp. But then I guess shuffling is stereotypical.
“Where you bin then tonight? Party or summin?”
“No. I left my friend’s flat in a hurry. Just needed to walk. I didn’t think about where I was until you spoke to me.”
We walk in silence as he digests this information.
“Same thing happened to me twenty years ago. Needed to walk. Kept on walkin.”
I peer at him out of the corner of my eye. Mist forms at the entrance to his nose. He’s staring straight ahead.
“There it is!” He points at the yellow light glaring out of a window at the end of the road. Dick’s Place. Letters on the window arranged in a semi circle spell it out. Condensation trickles down the window. I follow – what’s his name? – into the cafe.
“Whaddya want? Tea and a bacon buttie?” I nod and he yells our order to the owner.
“Ave a seat!” He sweeps his arm out motioning one of the two tables and we sit. His cardboard square leans against a table leg.
“What’s your name?”
“Sid. Yours?”
“Steve.”
“Pleased to meetcha, Steve. Ere, Dick, this is Steve!” He yells at the owner. “He’s paying!” A loud guffaw comes from the grill. Two furious sizzles give way to the occasional pop. I feel like I’m visiting a prostitute.
“Milk in your tea is it, Steve?” calls Dick from the counter. I nod. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I should just slip Sid a tenner and leave.
“I’ve known Dick for years. He’s one o the gooduns. Slips me a bacon sarnie every now and then. I don’t mind doing a bit of washing up for it. I reckon he thought he was gonna get a hand with it tonight!” He laughs again. “Don’t look that busy though. You been busy, Dick?”
Dick plonks two steaming mugs of tea on the table. “No. Quiet night tonight, Sid. You all right, Steve?”
I swallow hard. I nod. Too fast and too hard. Clasping my hands around my tea, I close my eyes and let the steam cover my face. We had a camping stove in the garage. Dad used to boil the water for our tea on it in an old fashioned whistling style kettle. Sometimes he cooked sausages or bacon and we ate huge doorstop sandwiches. That was when mum wasn’t gonna be home for dinner.. She must have been with Ron. How could Dad stand it? A clatter on the table jerks me back to the present. I open my eyes and see two plates with bacon rolls on them. Sid is shaking the ketchup bottle furiously.
“Not much left in ere, Dick!” He makes a grab for the ketchup bottle on the other table and knocks our table as he reaches it. Tea spills and forms puddles around the mugs.
“Clumsy bugger! Dick, bring a cloth will ya? I’ve spilt the tea. I’m always doing that! Do you find yourself doing stuff over and over?” He looks at me and this time I meet his eyes. They’re green with little dark flecks dotted around breaking up the clarity of the irises.
“I guess so. I can’t think of an example though.” I take a bite of my bacon buttie. It needs brown sauce.
“You work do ya?” He offers me the ketchup and I shake my head, reaching instead for the brown sauce.
“I front a TV show but I had a nervous breakdown yesterday morning. So I haven’t been to work.” I swirl brown sauce around my bun with my finger.
“There’s a knife ere,” he points at the knife. I nod and continue my swirling. He shrugs. “What you gonna do? Claim benefits?”
“Dunno. Haven’t thought about it. What do you do? How come you’re not working?”
He snorts out a laugh. “Me? I don’t work! It’s bad for ya! Used to though. Used to care about money and clothes and all that. One day I’d had enough. Went for a walk and never went back.” He chomps on his bacon buttie.
“Why?”
“Dunno. Fancied a change. Bit like you.”
I splutter and bits of bacon and roll explode from my mouth. “Fancied a change? Sorry!” I pass him a napkin and he puts it on the table next to his plate. “This was more than fancying a change!”
“Oh, right. Excuse I then!” he chuckles and takes another bite. Dick’s washing up cloth slaps the table, steaming, and he lifts the mugs to mop up the spilt tea.
“Now then, chaps. How’s the food?”
“Yeah, good, thanks.”
“Tasty as ever, Dick!”
“Bit tastier than normal for you, Sid, seeing as you’re not paying for it eh?” He gives Sid a nudge as he takes his dishcloth back to the sink.
“He’s right you know!” Sid winks at me and takes a slug of tea. ”
“What about family? Do you have one?”
Sid lifts his gnarly hand and rubs his cheek, “yeah. But I don’t see them. Best that way.”
“A wife? Kids?”
Sid nods slowly. “Yeah. Wife. Kids. Better off without me.” He stares past me, unblinking.
“And you just upped and left one day? And that’s it?”
His attention snaps back and he sees me again, “yes. Yeah. That’s it.”
“But don’t you think they’ll worry about you and miss you?”
He studies my face and sighs deeply, “no. I don’t think that. No. It’s unlikely. Highly unlikely.” He shakes his head a little.
“But how do you know? Surely…” I stop as Dick slides into my vision behind Sid and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I have no right to be asking you these questions. It’s nothing to do with me. None of my business.” I should probably pay up and get a cab back to Rebecca’s. Sid reaches a hand across the table and covers mine.
“It’s all right. Most people avoid asking me questions about my background. They assume it’s bad and they’ll embarrass me or summin. It ain’t true. Things need to be talked about. And thought about. And that’s what you’ve done for me. Helped me think about things that ain’t been thought of in a long time. And whoever it was in your family left you, it weren’t about you, believe me. You’re a goodun.”
I’m stunned. Tears prick my eyes. I blink rapidly and swallow.”Um. Thanks. Sid.” I cough. “Right. I’d better be going. Nice to meet you, Sid.” I offer my hand. He takes it and pulls it toward him as he hugs me over the table.
“If you fancy a chat in the evenings ever you’ll find me around this area. Take it easy, son!” He slaps my shoulder as I head to the exit. At the door I shout goodbye to Dick and wave once more to Sid.

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