I couldn’t help wondering how many days he’d before I actually noticed him. I’d probably never even done that if it hadn’t been for Julia.
“Get out, find people, observe them, draw them and let them talk.” Those had been her closing words to the small group of would-be artists huddled around the café table. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I was very much of the let-your-imagination-wander school and had had some success with that. Still, it could do no harm trying.
What drew my attention to him was the fact that he was standing in the middle of the square, head slightly raised. He piqued my curiosity when he started muttering. I couldn’t catch what it was he was saying and after a few minutes, I moved on. He was back the next day. This was interesting. A real live Julia guinea-pig right on my front door. I took out my sketchbook and sat down. Some 20 minutes later I was just finishing up a rough sketch when he turned and went. He was back and I was able to finish in a few minutes. First the lines, then the shame… My shame that grew line by line as the guinea-pig was transformed into The Dead End Man.
Divorced. Early forties… But these were nothing but statistics. I looked up, trying to find a way past his leathery hide. The Dead-End Man. That was what his wife had called him before walking out. That was the start of the beginning with an aching chasm spanning the two. He’d not gone spiralling out of control. He’s not descended headfirst into an alcoholic hell. He’d just been pounded from one attempt at life to another by mindless upstarts who didn’t even see in him as much as a guinea-pig. The few times he’d succeeded in scrambling to his feet, a new boot landed. One boot per line. Yet his eyes told another story. One of dignity and confidence, moving on to friendship. The foreman who take time every day to thank him for his otherwise thankless work; the chance to impress taken behind closed doors when no one was looking; the foreman’s acumen in realising it could have been no one else. The summons to hear the boss offer him the chance to train – at his age no one spoke of apprenticeship. Eyes with a shimmer of hope.
And so he was here, driven not by the desire to put things right or to prove her wrong – she who had dubbed him dead-end. His one desire now was to see the one fruit his eyes had never set eyes on. He’d dropped a photo in the letterbox, The Dead End Man inscribed across the back. Had she got it? Was he interested? How could he know. Yet until he did, he’d stand sentry like the faithful guard who sworn never to desert his post.
It must have been the fifth day after my first seeing him. A window opened on that second floor. A head poked itself out.
“I’ll be right down.”
The shimmer in his eyes turned to fierce anticipation casting off years of waiting.
As the door opened he took a few hesitating steps towards the girl. She moved briskly out onto the square, out past his shaking outstretched hand. Hooking her arm into that of her waiting friend they both descended out of sight.