It was raining the day I met old Tom, my light summer coat proving completely inadequate against the violent deluge that fell from the dark November sky.
“Did you not check the forecast?” Joanne asked me as I stood huddled in the office doorway as she locked up. I started to answer but the question was more an admonishment that an actual interest in my ability to plan for meteorological eventualities. She didn’t wait to find out though and scurried under the shop awning of the bakery next door and lit up a cigarette.
“Those things will kill you” I told her trying to be funny. Her withering glance told me I had been anything but.
“See you tomorrow then.” I shouted.
She nodded and waved as she took a long drag on the cigarette, the embers lighting up the sharp features of her mostly unremarkable face.
Waving back I turned as the rain cut through the pall of silver smoke and pulling my coat around me as best as I could headed off to catch the bus.
The number 45 runs just a few minutes from my place and If I hurry I’m thinking I might catch the Five-twenty which means I will be home before six and at the pub by seven.
Not wanting to get my good work shoes too wet I avoid the puddles as best as I can and trying to stay under cover I head past rows of unremarkable shops all closing for the night. Lights blink out and shutters rumble closed as people, seemingly as grey as the sky above, head home after another day not wholly different to the day before and likely quite similar to tomorrow.
The place has certainly seen better times I think to myself, and that’s when I saw him.
He had the posture that only age can bring, hunched over an old blue shopping cart and the rain cascadied onto his flat cap and spilled down his long brown coat.
“You alright mate?” I ask him checking my watch. I’d normally not bother asking but somethign about him said he needed help. And if everythign is okay there’s still time to get the five-twenty.
He looks up slowly, his face long and gaunt with thin lips and deep set dark eyes.
“Bloody wheel’s come off” he says pointing a long bony finger at the right side of the trolley, which I can now see is sitting quite lopsided. “Typical when I’ve just bought my week’s shop.” He shakes his head and fumbles with the wheel.
I tell him I’ll take a look if he wants and he nods appreciatively. “My eyes aren’t great, thanks” he says.
At this point I remember why I wanted to work in an office. I’ve never been any good with my hands, unless you count typing, which most people don’t. That said even with my limited knowledge I do know though that it looks knackered and tell him so.
“Oh that’s no good” he says shaking his head and he asks me if I think he needs a new one.
“What do I know” I think to myself and check my watch. If I don’t leave now It’ll be gone eight before I get to the pub.
I nod and scratch my chin as if I’m suddenly a shopping trolley mechanic. “Do you need a hand with it? Are you going far?”
“Oh yes please” he says, his face brightening. “Are you sure?”
I shake my head and tell him it’s not a problem really and he smiles. “Not too far” he says, “it will only take ten minutes.”