The rain was falling lightly but persistently and the musician in the next alcove over from me was playing to an audience more concerned about hurrying along to the next store or wherever they'd left their cars than considering fishing about in pockets for loose change.
And then, walking his bike laden down with bags that looked like they contained all his possessions in the world, up strode an old man; lank hair framing a stubbled, weathered face under a pair of large sunglasses and hat festooned with badges, many of them birds. He stared at the musician for a while, bobbed his head in time with the tune, then pulled out a harmonica from his pocket. It looked like we were in for an impromptu jam.
But it seemed that the musician liked to play alone. In the space of seconds he'd stopped, packed up, and wandered off with a wry smile. Some people just don't like to be seen associating with the seemingly homeless. It's a sad but understandable trait.
And this left the old man and me.
"I need to get some groceries," he said a little louder than was necessary. Heads of passersby turned, brows furrowed, lips pursed. I smiled and pointed behind me.
"Down there on the right," I said. "There's a small Tesco store."
"Oh no!" he shouted. "I'm never going in Tesco. Do you want to know why?" I nodded. "I got thrown out of a Tesco store by two great big guys," he continued. "Do you know? Two big guys. Security. Really big. One each side of me."
"How come?" I asked, intrigued. This sort of thing had never happened to me and the only security people I'd ever seen in supermarkets were, well, decidedly less than intimidating.
"I'd been drinking the night before, with mates, you see, and I'd gone in to get some food. This was years ago. And then I dropped some beer and they threw me out so I'm never going back there. You wouldn't would you? If they threw you out then you wouldn't would you?"
I made that face that can be interpreted any way you like. "Well," I said, pointing down East Street. "There's a Nisa shop down the end."
"Oh, Nisa," he said, scratching his chin. "Yes. That's good. Yeah, I need some groceries."
A few seconds passed in silence while he looked in the direction of the acceptable store. Suddenly, he snapped his head back in my direction looking at the camera hanging around my neck.
"What are you taking photos of?"
"Anything and everything, whatever takes my interest," I replied, giving my stock answer for whenever I'm asked this question.
"Do you want to take a picture of me?"
He didn't need to ask twice. I raised the camera and fired off a shot before he could change his mind. "Lovely," I said. "Thank you."
The rain started to fall a little heavier and I stepped further back under shelter. The old man sighed and walked his overloaded bike off in the direction of the Nisa store.
Google+: View post on Google+