I didn’t really notice when the man at the bus stop disappeared.
For years, he sat in the doorway on a milk crate, from morning to night and beyond. When it was warm, he drank Fosters out of a can, even at eight in the morning. When it was cold, he wore fingerless gloves and sipped something potent-smelling from a white plastic cup. Sometimes he played music. Australian classics. ACDC, The Angels.
For years, I rounded the corner hoping he wasn’t there. For years, he was and I’d studiously stare at the concrete or my phone or my own feet as I walked past. I’m from the city. It’s the city way, and you don’t want to get into a situation where you smile and nod once and then you have to smile and nod every time. Best just get on with our day, pretending no-one else exists.
His absence snuck up on me. He wasn’t there for a day. Three days. Then someone tweeted something about him, and I realised I hadn’t seen him in so long I’d stopped looking out for him as I rounded the corner. I wondered occasionally where he’d gone. I hoped he’d moved. I hoped he’d found something more fulfilling to do than sit on a milk crate in his doorway, drinking Fosters and listening to ACDC as the world passed him by. I hoped he’d got a job, or a better place to live, or both.
I hoped these things in the way you do when you don’t really care – they were white noise of thoughts, meaningless and fleeting; the nothingness I think about when I’m running or waiting for a bus. Oh, that car is a nice colour. I’d like a green car. I should grow watermelon. I wonder how hard it is to grow watermelon. Whatever happened to bus stop guy? I hope he’s doing well. I haven’t watched Elementary in a while, I should catch up.
Mostly I just hoped these things because I hoped he hadn’t died. It would be creepy if he died, like when we lived in Petersham and the old lady with the shopping trolley full of garbage bags died and all the locals commented on the article on the website but none of us had ever spoken to her or helped her or even smiled at her and she’d died and really we all just felt a little bit guilty, but not guilty enough to smile at the man at the bus stop.
I noticed when he came back. For months he’d been gone and then one day there he was, fingerless gloves and all.
I found it stranger than he’d come back than I had that he’d gone. People go all the time. For years you see them and then you don’t and they become anecdotes and then you forget about them all together. They don’t usually come back. I was glad he wasn’t dead, but now I wondered where he’d gone for those months.
Nothing had changed — same milk crate, same can of Fosters, same Australian classics — but everything had. He’d been gone and now he was back and it was strange and noteworthy and we were all relieved he wasn’t dead but it was weird how it all settled back into the same routine.
The only real difference is now we nod at each other when I walk past. It feels less weird to acknowledge his return than it does to pretend none of this ever happened, so we nod and acknowledge it and get on with our days. Me, doing the things I do; him, sitting on his milk crate and watching the world go by from behind his can of Fosters.
Same as ever.