He wandered around the makeshift art gallery set up to display the children’s art works.
His gait was uneven, though any injury he had was hidden by his long overalls pooling over the top of his unblemished workboots. The sound of his footsteps bounced off the walls of the unpopulated community hall, a hollow sort of thud-THUD, thud-THUD that made the space seem even more cavernous than it was.
I felt awkward, standing off to the side, torn between walking with him to explain the processes the children had taken, and giving him the time and the space to inspect and appreciate the art in his own way.
Hands clasped behind my back, I rocked back and forth on the worn soles of my mary janes, wishing – not for the first time – that I was one of those people whose throat didn’t close up when they had to make smalltalk with strangers. Or people in general.
I checked the time on my phone. 11.04am. Three more hours of this. We had been open for 55 minutes and he was the first person through the door.
He had threaded his way around the desks, past the toilet roll sculptures and cereal box structures. He had appreciated the paper-plate faces with their crepe paper strands of hair and was making his way towards the more sophisticated “flowers” made out of paint-covered soda-bottle-bottoms when something made him stop in his tracks.
He looked up at me, sharply.
I smiled my most welcoming “how can I help you” smile, waiting for his question.
“I’ve been in jail”, he said before immediately resuming his walk.
Moments passed as my feeble mind attempted to process not his words – I heard those – but the purpose for which he uttered them.
He wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t making any attempt to come near me, or engage me any further.
“I bet you’re glad to be out now”, I replied, what felt like hours later.
“Yeah” he mumbled, his back to me, his head nodding slowly on his thick neck.
He began shuffling past the last exhibition, no longer interested in the items on display. “Well, seeya”, he said in the dull monotone I had become accustomed to, throwing his hand up to give me a wave as he made his way out the door.
“Well. At least that’s the day’s weirdo done and dusted”, I thought to myself.
Oh so incorrectly.