There’s an uncommon place to sit down by the wharf where the old ships still come in to port. It’s where Winston sits on cold days when it doesn’t rain. Winston sits with propped up hand upon darkened cane and his weather worn wooden leg peering out from beneath the hem of rolled up trousers.
Its a curious position there, by the harbour, for the seat does not look upon the waving changes in the ocean as it meets with the piers beside; instead this seat looks upon the cemented grounds where people might meet and move on to restaurants and boulevards which adorn the port. Children often run and squeal and mark the pavement with sticky ice cream hands and brown knees while their parents mull over coffee and look out over the murky coloured water ahead.
This is what Winston watches as he waits.
Winston waited here, on his own for many years until Beatrice began sitting beside him.
Beatrice belonged to Shady Green, an expensive village for people ‘of age’ and she would arrive by bus every Tuesday and Thursday. They all would. The rest of them armed with frames and wheelchairs, canes and borrowed arms for balance. Like an army of grey and white bobbing heads they would find a place amongst the throng in the old Blue Rose Cafe. Where they would seat and feast upon chicken parmiganas and fried fish as they drink diluted teas with small chocolate heart treats for afterwards.
Beatrice had none of that. Beatrice would waltz off the bus, chin in the air, her head far above the bobbing brigade of grey and sit next to Winston with a homemade sandwich and thermos not even deigning to look across at the gathering of her bus toting brethren.
Winston loved Beatrice the first day he watched her immaculate brown sandals flip flop off the bus and her round sashaying bottom perch itself a hands width away from Winston, such was the room on the seat for the two of them.
Beatrice pretended not to see Winston and continued to eat her ham and salad sandwich and sip delicately at the pungent black coffee in the dark green top from her thermos.
If it were fifty years earlier Winston would have peppered her questions. He might ask where she was from, what she was out doing that day and perhaps a cheeky suggestion of a date to come. But time had taught Winston that people of his age (just shy of eighty three) enjoyed basking in the pasts great story but weren’t so engaging when talking about the now.
So Winston waited and he arrived promptly at nine twenty every Tuesday and Thursday out by the dock, facing away from the water, just to sit quietly next to Beatrice at nine thirty.
It was the highlight of his week.
He could smell her soap mixed with salty sea breeze and watch her long fingers wrap around the warmth of her cup and pursed lips relax to open and engage the sandwich of choice into her mouth.
Winston always smiled when Beatrice walked purposely over, and she would pretend he hadn’t.
Winston didn’t care, he loved to smile.
One morning, the seventh time Winston and Beatrice sat in silence, Winston broke ranks and in his firm warm timbre of a voice, greeted her, “Fancy seeing you here, fine lady.”
Beatrice fumbled at the wrapping on the days tuna fish sandwich, her thermos fell to the side and rolled to the ground with a great ‘twang’ of metal upon cement and both Winston and Beatrice reached for it. Beatrice finally met his eye.
“What’s an old thing like you doing out here?” Beatrice clipped.
“I might ask you the same question.” He smiled and leaned back with both hands piled upon his cane.
That’s when Winston saw Beatrice’s smile. He could have sworn in just that moment, for just that second he had minor heart attack, but he knew his body and his ticker was not in any danger, except from the woman beside him.
“Winston.” Winston said matter of factly.
“Beatrice, you might call me Bea.” She kept her eyes on her food.
“I quite like Beatrice, I knew a Beatrice once; prettiest girl in town.” He looked over and watched Beatrice’s face, “I’d say you’re a good deal prettier.”
Beatrice lifted her lips in coy smile, “You old flatterer, I’ve met my share of you silver tongued rouges.”
“I’m sure you have Beatrice.” Winston leaned in close conspiratorially, “I’d say though that this one means his compliment.”
After that sweet connection Beatrice felt she hadn’t enough time to fill the space with all the words she wished to say to Winston and Winston basked in the glow of all the things she spoke of. As expected it was almost all about the past and the lives lived before the time of her being placed at Shady Green.
She was a fiery woman of great demand but soft to her grandchildren, unlike her expectations of her own children years before. She acknowledged this as learning but said no more.
She revelled in delight at the memories of her husband who died six years ago from a long term issue with a long term problem that she couldn’t quite find the words to name.
Often Beatrice would ask Winston questions and he would answer as best he could but cajoled Beatrice into her own world. Winston enjoyed the bright spark he saw behind those eyes, the stories of years long past.
Sandy days at the beach, stealing hot pies off her neighbourhood sills, building forts and making slingshots out of her fathers long forgotten waste heap. Her sisters golden laughter which rang strong until a case of measles struck and she lay washed out in the room they shared and slipped away quietly three nights before her eleventh birthday. She spoke of promises kept and broken, mending britches and wiping dirt and grass form her boys on an hourly basis during summers great heat. She recalled her roast dinners of lamb an duckling and the way she used to make the gravy just right for the potatoes. She reminisced about her daughters wedding and the day she watched her graduate from university and Beatrice’s own feeling of regret in not having pursued an education. Beatrice took up study after that and her husband was so proud he built her a special desk in the attic. Beatrice graduated university at the age of forty two, completing nursing and literature. She then taught mature aged students until she and her husband retired at sixty, he became ill soon after and when she watched him fade away it broke her.
Winston listened and loved the woman who began to share her sandwich with him and bring and extra cup to share her coffee.
It was a cool breeze the day Beatrice didn’t come. Winston watched the bobbing grey brigade exit and enter the bus. He waited longer just in case of something else, something different, before he took the trip to his own home in a shared village fifteen minutes walk away.
That was a Tuesday.
On the following Thursday as Winston watched the Shady Green folk exit the bus he saw a young blonde woman with name tag of ‘Rhonda’ walk toward him, and Winston’s breath was held. He raised his chin and watched the blonde young woman approach him. His wooden leg tapped nervously against the white cement beneath and his cane fell to the same rhythm.
“Hello, are you Winston?” Young Rhonda asked softly.
Rhonda smiled a smile full of regret and welled tears. Winston already knew what she would say, he knew it last Tuesday.
“I’m so sorry to tell you Winston but Beatrice had a bad fall,” Rhonda paused, “She didn’t make it.”
Winston nodded, so was the trouble with getting older. Watching friends old and new depart the world without the fanfare that warranted the celebration of their lives, like Beatrice. He had hoped she was granted the dignity she deserved.
“Her children are having a small quiet ceremony but just family I believe.” She informed him quietly.
Winston nodded again.
Young Rhonda took Winston’s shaking hand that rested atop his cane and knelt down to look him in the eye, “She spoke of you with such care and love Winston. She was rather fond you.” Her face streamed tears.
Winston found his own eyes stinging. He had long let go of the care of what others thought and let the tears slide down his old weathered cheeks. In his great warm timbre of a voice he said, “Thank you.”
“Would you care to join us?” Rhonda asked, nodding to grey crowd in the Blue Rose Cafe.
Winston smiled and shook his head. Rhonda nodded and walked away with a smile and two tear stained cheeks.
Winston waits on the seat still and watches the world go by, just as he did with Beatrice just as he will continue to do until it his time not to return.