Read by Keith Stuart
A man gets off a bus, stumbles, looks over and sees a woman, smiling.
“Are you OK?” she asks, “I’m sorry for smiling but it’s not often you see a one-legged man carrying his other leg!” The man looked happy.
“If you could help, I’ll forgive you for laughing” he said in a commanding Sergeant Major voice.
“May I take that for you?” she asks.
“NO, these are my life’s treasures” he replied, as if his world depended on the contents of his parcel, which was briefcase-sized and covered in old brown wrapping paper. He wouldn’t let it from his grasp. She wondered about him; he was elderly and proud, wearing a trench coat fashionable 60 years ago, shoes repaired a dozen times with aging looks associated with a troubled life. What was he doing here? she silently asked herself. This was the final stop, nothing other than beach huts exist beyond here. Who is he? The elderly man took a seat on the bus stop bench, lifted his trench coat and re-fitted his war-torn wooden leg.
“Aah, that’s better,” he grumbled, “can’t feel it but it looks better don’t it my dear?”
She agreed. She could see a twinkle in his eyes, aged by folds in his skin that reminded her of Fagin in the film Oliver. She wanted to ask why he took his leg off in the first place but dare not – it was his business.
He reminded her of the grandfather she never knew from the faded black and white dog-eared photos her grandmother kept in her purse, that she would proudly show her. Her grandad was listed ‘Missing in action, presumed dead’ in World War Two. He was tall, dark and handsome back then.
As she gathered her own things, she politely asked, “are you OK now?” She felt obliged to assist, it was cold with the light slowly dimming in December evening.
“Thank you my dear, I’m fine. I’ve spent my life having to fend for myself, you get used to it.” She realised whatever was in his parcel meant a lot to him. She offered her arm to hold whilst he stood himself up, grasping his parcel and walking stick.
“Do you know where Abbot’s Cottage is?” he asked.
“Yes” she replied in surprise, “that’s my home.”
“Ahh, do you live with Ethel Abbot?” he enquired further. Before she answered, she felt spooked. Who was he? He looked harmless, but you never can tell. She threw caution to the wind.
“Yes, she’s my grandma.” He knew more.
“So, you’re Abby… how lovely to meet you”. How does he know my name, she thought.
“Don’t be surprised, dear” he assured her. “When I returned from the war, I was told my wife had perished. That changed last week when the life-long grief disappeared. My wife Ethel named her cottage after me. I’ve searched my whole life for her and I’ve finally returned.”
“Goodness me… GRANDAD?!” she exclaimed.
“Call me Tom if you like” he replied.
Heartbroken, she took his hand, softly saying, “sorry grandad… Tom, but grandma passed away yesterday.”