There was no response, as usual. I liked to nod at him hoping that one day he might chat or raise a wispy hand in salute, and look at me rather than through me. He appeared at around four o’clock each day as I was pushing the grandkids back home for tea and toast after nursery.
As bold as brass he leant behind the sandstone wall. The path was stubborn by the churchyard – old cobbles and soft grass and the Maclaren Buggy’s tiny wheels had a habit of bogging. You had to shove when they stuck, so maybe the noise attracted him. He had a top hat and a neckerchief, or it could have been a scarf; the smudging made it hard to tell. He oozed melancholy but as we got used to each other I thought I detected a longing in his gaze.
I often looked behind me to see what entranced him. Sid’s neat bamboo canes wigwammed with runner beans in the allotment so maybe he remembered hunger or had been a gardener.
‘Top of the morning to you.’
‘You’re a long way from home. Ireland, I mean.’
There was a hiss and his words formed a little speech cloud above the wall, as if drawn in copper plate, by a Victorian scribe. Speaking probably took up more energy than speechbubbling, for a gentleman like him
It took me a while but being a dab hand at sudoku I managed to unscramble his meaning.
‘Will you help me find the key, now?’
I parked the buggy and obediently clambered into Sid’s allotment. A silver CD dangled from pea-sticks. The word ‘No,’ rang inside my brain. A pitted key lay on the ground. I picked it up and turned. My friend flared into colour then evaporated.