One With Sanctuary

It was the third day of winter, and the cool afternoon sun hung softly on the greying tops of trees. Tall apartment blocks and buildings rose beyond the skeleton points of elm and gun wood, and in the unseen distance the peak hour traffic drove against the constant looping and criss-crossed networks of traffic lights, desperate to avert the coming night.
The bike track, long and black and winding, swept through the park near the downtown bustle of the city. The sun was warm on my face, and I enjoyed the solace of the abandoned park, left only to the waning light of the fast approaching evening. The nights here are early and immediate, and the walk home from university would be another long and tiring one.
A large man loomed ahead on the track before me, looking rough and hewn straight from the gutter. He wore an unbuttoned red-checkered shirt over a dirty top, and his pants were loose and untidy. He came dragging his feet along the tarmac spread of path, as though it really wasn’t worth the effort to reach the other end, if indeed for him there was an end, or if he was just mindlessly walking somewhere in hope that there was.
The man was overweight, and on his left shoulder he rested a rusted pick where on the head hung a plastic bag full of empty beer cans, rustling like wind in grass as he stumbled forward along the track. Several times the disorderly figure of the man paused in the middle of the path and raised the can of VB hanging calmly in the strength of his palm. The can itself seemed in its rightful place, with purpose. He took a long, gulping swig from the gleaming green can before dragging cumbersome shoes against the tarmac beneath through the afternoon’s gold-lit dreariness, vaguely observing his surrounds with tired, lazy eyes. When our forceful figures met for the briefest of moments as we passed one another, I smiled in his direction. ‘How’re ya mate?’
‘G’day,’ he said miserably with a long, slightly disjointed nod, barely raising his helpless eyes to look at me. It was a though he didn’t want to see the warmth on my face, like he really didn’t want to greet my eyes with his own, fearing that I might see something he didn’t want me to see.
I turned my face as we passed and gazed at the canal winding through the swamping furrow to my left, caught by the golden light hanging on overgrown reeds and clumps of long grass. He was just another man on the street looking for a way to bar past his problems, or so I should have thought. My mind wouldn’t forsake the sadness I heard in his voice, the contemplation of his soft eyes; misery being drunk away by a single can of VB. The drifting afternoon’s light turned to darkness on the rust and cracked paint of a steel walkway crossing the creek, and I heard a gentle ringing behind me. I turned in my track to see an aged man riding his mountain bike. He had short white hair, a tanned leathery face and strong features. He was hard at his peddling, and determined in his midst.
‘Sorry—I didn’t want to push you off the track.’ He shouted as he peddled closer toward me. ‘Just letting you know I’m coming.’ I barely had time to let out a ‘No worries’ when he asked me how I was.
‘I’m good mate.’ The man raced past, I felt the slip of rushing wind follow him. ‘How are you?’ I shouted as his face turned from my direction and on the track ahead.
‘Always well!’ His reply came over his shoulder as strong and convincing, more than enough to have me muttering the two simple words myself. I found myself smiling, and came to forget the sadness of the straggling figure who passed me only moments before.
‘Always well.’ I muttered again, this time slightly louder, and wondered what the aged rider had that the one hulking over a beer can didn’t.

One With Sanctuary

Matyas

Joined July 2008

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