Today I was waiting for the bus, at the stop near the river bridge. Due to the pissy English weather we’ve been having an abundance of lately the river was what could be politely described as “fast flowing”. I’d just been to the gym and was in a world of my own, thinking about nothing special. Next to me on the bench was a black guy in a suit who looked relatively normal apart from the fact that he was crying his eyes out. Holding his face in his hands he was quietly sobbing and his shoulders kept heaving with the exertion.
Living in a town that has several homeless bums, a lot of “special” people and a couple of halfway houses for recently paroled Chavs, I felt sorry for him but didn’t attempt to engage him in conversation, mainly because I wouldn’t have known what to say.
After a couple of minutes a woman and her little girl, aged about 3 walked up to wait for a bus. The mother saw someone she knew and sparked up a conversation with her. The little girl spotted the crying bloke and stared at him intently for a while. He was still crying and holding his face. The little kid had big, Malteser eyes and started to frown as she looked at the guy. Her mother was distracted and had her back to her daughter and didn’t notice as the child tottered forward and stood right in front of the guy, looked up at him and said simply.
“Don’t cry. It’ll be alright!”
Before I could digest this, she then put her head on his knee and hugged his leg with her arms, again saying “don’t cry, it’ll be alright!”
The guy froze and stopped crying, but was still holding his face. The mother turns round, sees the kid and snaps “Julie! What have I told you?!!” and snatches the little girl up in her arms.
“Julie! I’ve told you not to talk to strangers.”
“But mummy he was crying, you said I should be nice to people who are…”
“You silly, silly…” she turns to the man. “I’m so sorry, she’s so young. I’m sorry if she embarrassed you.”
I’m totally gobsmacked. The equally confused bloke looks from the girl to the mother in total confusion, but no longer crying.
“Julie that’s VERY naughty!” the mother scolds, clearly embarrassed and upset. The little kid starts to cry.
“Mummy, you told me to be nice to people who are upset!” she says stubbornly, staring her mother in the eye from her vantage point near her shoulders. “He was crying!”
The man stands up and the mother backs off a step or two, holding her daughter. He holds his hands out, palms open then after swallowing hard says.
“I lost my wife last night to cancer. I came here to put myself in the river.” He turns and points to the churning brown water some way behind us. “All I wanted was to be with her again.” He smiles at the little girl and then says to the mother. “I am a Christian, what I was going to do is a sin."
The mother smiles uncomfortably, the friend she was talking to is looking as confused as I feel and also looking worried. The man reaches into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and takes out a necklace with some kind of bauble on the end. He looks again to the mother and says “may I?”
After a pause the mother stammers “well, I don’t see why not” and the man unhooks the chain and gently places it around the little girl’s neck and stands back.
“That was my wife’s. Her name was Audrey. She would have liked you,” he says to the little kid, who’s smiling at him again. “Thank you, you’re a very special little girl.”
He nods to the mother and walks away, off up the high street. After a few seconds have passed that feel like about an hour, the mother turns to the little girl and takes the bauble in her fingers. “Well, that was….we…WELL, you’re a very lucky girl aren’t you Julie.”
“Yes mummy, he was nice.”
The mother puts her down and after another pause her and her friend start talking again in whispers.
“Well, you just don’t know do you, I mean he could have been anybody!”
The little kid is proudly looking at the necklace, holding the silver bauble up to see it.
My bus comes and I get on it. It’s probably about 15 minutes before I exhale again or can think straight.