Scenes from London, circa 2003

Found this little gem in my London journal. The funny thing is, I have no recollection of this particular man (bum). But I do recall the toothless street woman.

He sits by the tunnel in the Tube station, burning incense while staring through those passing by. He wears silver rings on his fingers – rings filled with coral-colored stones.  Sometimes there’s an open hat lying nearby, for those feeling generous to drop their spare change. The incense masks the beer-pee-vomit smell of the tunnel. Really, he’s performing a public service.

Occasionally he smokes a cigarette, or maybe it’s a joint. I’m not quite sure, because I don’t look at him, exactly. To look at him is to pity him or acknowledge his presence or interrupt – enter into – his private world.

He never speaks, doesn’t utter the oft-heard ‘spare some change, please’ or indulge in the insane chatter of the toothless street woman from my neighborhood. He just sits, deep in thought – or resignation – as a smoker on his ten minute smoke break. Only his isn’t restricted by corporate culture and etiquette. His smoke break will last as long as he pleases.

I wonder if he is really very wise. (Do we think all quiet people are smart? If he’s so smart why is he living on the street?) Maybe he’s not. Maybe he is like the character in Nailpaul’s ‘Half a Life‘ who takes a vow of silence as penance.

He always wears a jacket – corduroy, maybe tweed – and pants and shoes. And usually a hat on his head.

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