It was late Autumn and the trees were shedding golden leaves that swirled in eddies on the crossroads. The damp gutters were filled with leaves and the children shuffled through them on the way to school. The clear shrill song of a robin came from the sycamores back of the cafe where the old man sat.
He tilted his head on the side of his good ear so he might hear the song better. A double-decker bus swept past with ‘Smarden’ on its billboard. The wind the bus left ruffled the old man’s thin white hair where he sat in the shelter a wicker screen made with the wall of the cafe. Late roses blossomed and twisted in the screen.
A waitress came with a tray.
“Another cup of coffee sir?” she asked, noting his dry wrinkled hands, his thread-worn jacket, the deeply lined strangely scarred face.
“Thank you. No,” he said slowly.
“Will there be anything else?”
“That will be thirty-five p., sir.”
The old man fumbled the inside pocket of his waistcoat.
He pulled out three coins. The girl leaned over in her clean apron. With fine supple hands she spread the coins on the table. A small diamond engagement ring flashed on her finger.
“That’s not enough,” she said suspiciously.
“It is all that I have,” the old man peered up through grey hard-seeing eyes.
“Where do you live sir?” the girl asked. She swept back the blond hair a gust had driven partly over her eyes.
The old man’s mouth remained stubbornly closed. He looked across at the bank that had just opened. The girl shook her head and swayed saucily away with his cup and the last of his money.
The old man looked around at the other tables. He saw that he was quite alone now. He looked across at the bank again. He had not noticed anybody enter its doors.
He felt between the buttons of his wrinkled, once white, too many times washed shirt. Careful as his lightly trembling hands would allow, he pulled out the gun and lay it on his lap. He looked at it tenderly. It was an old pitted Smith and Wesson ’45, an American sergeant with Wingate had given him in Burma. The wood of the grip was gnarled, and there was a small piece missing. He stuck it back and closed the flaps of his jacket protectively. Continue reading