Charles used to say hello to everybody
even to us children
as he quickly walked to the shops, for the bus or home.
For us children to be counted as equals with adults
to be included
in a kind greeting
was something special.
It felt nice.
Often he'd spy a piece of *******: a cellophane wrapper lodged in a bush, a squashed drinks can next to a tree trunk or a balled up newspaper tumble-weeding across the road.
He'd pick them up, but only on his way home.
We guessed he binned them, but we never knew.
"Hi, hello. Grand morning, grand, grand," the words spoken as rapidly as his feet moved.
"Hi Charles. Yes, it's a fine day." This was the most anybody replied as he swiftly paced home clutching a takeaway bag while a pile of litter was hinged in the crux of his arm by his chest.
A giant of a man
A head taller than the tallest father.
His face was that of an aged cherub: warm, friendly, cleanly shaved and full.
I am uncertain, but think his jet black hair was styled like a Teddyboy.
Still as children, but a little older,
a little less naive,
a little more curious,
Something kicked in.
A discovery that he was not like the other adults in our lives.
He always smiled.
"Hi, hello. A bit nippy today."
"Hi Charles. Best wrap up."
"Yes, yes," he would add with a nod and smile before carrying on about his way.
Older still and I asked about him.
Not fully comprehending all the words such as "Mental breakdown,"
but he had one a long, long time ago.
"He used to be a scientist in London," I was told, "but he had a mental breakdown."
The phrase carried weight because it was always whispered as if he could hear through the walls and houses two streets away.
Everybody said how terribly sad it was.
But Charles always smiled.
I wondered who it was saddest for.
Despite my ignorance of things I understood that I should feel sorry for him, so I did (a bit).
I really felt sorry for was us children.
It was understood he only ever said hello because he had a "breakdown" and if he didn't he would be like the rest of adults in the neighbourhood.
Knowledge stole this from us.
For Charles who was a kind man once.