There is a man who stands in the doorway between the tobacconist and the chemist. He stands outside in the night. I never see him smoke.
I have got used to saying 'hello' to him. I think that he sees me but he does not reply. He is neither angry nor shy. There is a very slight movement of his head. It is as if he hears a distant cry from a realm that he has long departed. No, he never speaks.
In winter it is cold in that corner. He stands in a coat that reaches from his neck to his knees. In summer he wears an anorak. He is there at 9pm or 10pm. But he is never there at 8pm or 11pm. You will not see him in daylight. You will not see him at midnight. And you will never see him move.
The neighbours don't like him. They say he should go away. Why is he always standing there? They call the police. He does nothing wrong. There is nothing to do and nothing to be said.
It is a quiet street. He stands in the doorway that is neither an entrance to a shop nor an entrance to a house. It is a doorway that is not visible when he is not there.
Yet, above that door, two flights up, I can see a room with no curtains and a tungsten light bulb that remains on all night. You cannot see inside. It is too high. Perhaps he lives there with a simple bed and a table covered with old mementos. Perhaps he sleeps under the rhododendrons by the park gate.
When all the shops are closed, and all the people are at home or in the pub, he is there. Every 20 minutes there is a flurry when, up the road, the bus stops and a huddle of people get off and walk downhill. But if you go now, on purpose to see him, you will never see him. He is not there.
He is the last guardian. He is standing there, protecting something that everyone has forgotten, and even he has forgotten. And no-one asks him anymore, and no-one knows what he is guarding or what he is doing, or what purpose this standing has. And he does not know. But maybe it will be important one day.
Once I saw two lads with knives jousting and jeering. They urinated on his coat. He stood still and looked ahead. He waited. They ran off laughing. I did nothing. I was afraid. He continued to stand, immersed in noble silence.
He neither protests nor demurs. His eyes do not appear dull or listless. Yet, nor are they awake. His thoughts – either wise or foolish – cannot be reached. Their focus is on some point in another time, in a different space. He will not respond to 'good evening' or 'bitter cold tonight isn't it?' There is only a faint movement. But he looks content.
Perhaps some nights there is a slight movement of his head, some recognition of terms and greetings he once knew. But they touch him lightly - like leaves falling from the birch tree on the corner - and they brush some half caught memory. At some juncture, in his cortex, perhaps a neuron knocks against another, and he is amused. It is hard to know. But he stands. He waits. He does not reply.
He is not hostile. He is the sentinel and he stands alone. It is his duty. Waiting. Waiting. He is the witness. He plays his part. There is no rancour. There is no despair. He is aware, but not so much.
It may be very important that he stands there. It may be worthless. Despite this, he waits. He neither intervenes, nor retreats. You never see him arrive, nor depart. Yet at some time, after the last bus has stopped and before the pub has bolted its door, he will be gone.
He is the night watchman for a just cause that has now vanished. He is the remaining ember in the fire. He is the final reverberation of the last track on an album that has not yet been deleted but is nevertheless no longer available.
He is the perfect binary: He is standing there. He is not there standing there. There is nothing in between.
There is a man who stands in the doorway. But tonight he is not there. He has gone. Forever.
I go to the empty doorway. I do not know why. I stand there in the dark and I do not smoke. Leaves fall. Two young men stagger past, shouting, and they piss on my shoes. But I do not see them. I am waiting for some purpose that I do not understand.
Mike lives in Sussex and has been writing short fiction for over 10 years. He writes between three and eight hours per week. He has published fiction in peer-reviewed magazines and over 50 theatre reviews of community-based drama. During this period, he has also attended local and national workshops including Arvon and New Writing South. His passion is for creative writing that is rooted in the voice of contemporary social life. Mike remains actively engaged in social justice issues in the UK and abroad and has published widely in academic and practitioner journals.
Of the motivation behind the piece, Mike says…
‘The story is about the 'other' who leads a life very different to our own. They may walk across our path yet we may know nothing of their stories - whether fantastical or mundane. So, what is our affinity for the outsider? The story offers a pinhole view of how a walk in their shoes might open our imaginary to the political, the emotional, or the transcendental.’