Fourth floor. Waterstones. My mind? Still wandering the streets. A man of eighty or so sits on the other side of this round table, which as usual is covered in books. He’s in the only other red chair in the room. Wearing a brown overcoat. His bright pink shirtsleeves are peeking out at each wrist. From these emerge two hands whose tremors are hard to miss. The deep blue and green veins stand above his peach skin like the mountain ranges scarring the earth. He is reading books on contract law but cannot seem to find what he is looking for. He flips open the pages of one, sets it down. Flips open the next, sets it down. Repeats this with the third. Returns to the second… His jaw jiggles from side to side, as his lax skin creases his chin. His frown is carved so deeply in his face that the skin stays in formation even when his lips smile ever so slightly. He has crutches resting against a table. His maroon tie has little yellow boats on it, and matches perfectly with this pink shirt. His jaw and right arm jiggle with ferocity, the tremor something he is unable to stop. It spreads to his knees, and the table he is resting them against begins to shake too. He flips the page. The tremors ease, but his knees are still wagging. His dark rimmed glasses and his fixed gaze on the page are the only parts that do not tremble. His brows peek from above those rims, but his eyes are hidden. He glances at the prices of the two books and stares at the table while he makes his decision, lost in thought.
A chance moment and he looked my way. I was staring at him, so I smiled. He smiled back, warmth spreading to his deep blue eyes, and tears blur my vision. He was trying to stand up, so I rushed over.
“Can I help you?” he looks up from his hunched frame.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.”
I hand him the crutches, which he takes with a smile.
“Will you be purchasing any of these books?”
“Yes, I’d like the top two on this pile.” I gather them up. He asks if I am studying law by any chance, his voice soft-spoken and lacking any of the trembles that mar his form. He is a semi-retired barrister, he says, in a voice full of life and gratitude as we hobbled over to the till. He has decided to refresh his knowledge on contract law. He worries someone will steal my computer – I worry less, and say I can keep an eye on it.
Ding! We ring the bell once. Ding! We ring again, but no one is currently available. I look for a bookseller, as thankfully someone just returns. He helps the man, and darts off in a hunt for some other book. The man creeps across the floor, his crutches weighed heavy, and sits in a red leather armchair while he waits for the bookseller to return with the mysterious book.
I hope he has a wonderful day, and is able to share his smile with many people throughout the rest of his life. Perhaps with enough people so that the frown marks that mar his cheeks can be crisscrossed with those of a smile. I wish this man well, and hope he enjoys the refresher of contract law. My legs and hands are the ones trembling now, as I glance across at the man in the brown coat.
He’s trying to make his way across to the till once more, struggling to balance the book he’s now holding with his crutches. I go over. He smiles.
“It’s a book on Sir Walter Raleigh who went from being a hero to being a traitor and I was always puzzled by his story. I never understood why. So I think it’s about time I found out,” said the old barrister.