The rain beat the pavement as the man ran to a nearby bus shelter holding a newspaper over his ragged hair. The rain hitting the glass was nearly deafening, but there was comfort in the sound. A public transit bus comes and goes, recognizing the bleak figure immediately. This was, after all, his commonplace - the closest thing he had to a home in the past two years.
"Get a job", people would say, as if it were ever really that easy.
He had been diagnosed with depression after his wife’s passing nearly four years ago and suffered alone as he mourned and pushed through what most people see as a normal life. On the outside, it was unapparent how miserable he had become, unable to share the world with another as he had now for so many years. He came to his cubical on time each day, he worked until the late afternoon had came and went, and he left without a word. He was the unnoticed face in a crowd.
All at once, he lost his drive to live his life. He stopped showing up to work, he did not pay his bills, he didn’t answer the door or the phone. The clear print reading “EVICTION NOTICE” had meant nothing to him. He took only the essential things with him as he left behind an empty house behind. The last thing he put into his bag was a copy of the Odyssey, worn now after so many years of attentive reading.
The tattered copy sat open on his crossed legs, the moment passing by. The walls of the shelter sheild him from the wind and welcome him into their embrace. the adequecy of lighting was questionable as the sun descends and the world loses its colour. A streetlamp flickers to life and casts an ominous glow onto the street beneath it. He continues to read about the long journey of a man trying to find his way home, not unlike himself. What’s happening on the page is disconnected from thepart of the world that he is trapped on; he watches his secret world become a vivid painting beneath his hands and turns the page.
"Hello," said a man waiting for another bus to take him to a far off place.
He didn’t respond.
"I take it you like the book, judging by the condition…" The man tried again to grasp his attention. His dark figure loomed on the other side of the glass.
"I do", he said.
"What’s your name, son?"
He paused, turning to fully look at the man. “Its Tristan,” he said, contemplating the man as he stepped into the light. The man shuffled into the shelther gingerly, leaving behind the loud clack of his cane. His clothes chaffed against the skin on his legs, and he carried his fedora in his hand. He creased his face in pain as he sat beside Tristen.
"My name is Connor Wright", he breathed heavily, struggling to continue. "I have a spare copy of that book myself, laying around at home. No use to myself. Would you want to have it? I can bring it to you the same time next week"
"How do you know I will return it?"
"Perhaps I don’t want it back"
The silence stretched. “I would like that very much, sir” replied Tristan.
A dark blue bus pulled up to the stop without warning and stirred the stillness in the air. The headlights shone in their eyes and caught the edge of the mans thick-framed glasses. “I will see you next week then”
Each week came and passed as Mr. Wright began to bring Tristan books frequently, exchanging each new book for the last. “Why do you treat me with such kindness when I have nothing to give?” Tristan would ask him each week, never recieving an answer.
A year passed by in the presence of the silent agreement. Mr. Wright would often bring Tristan a warm container filled with soup, or a sandwhich left over from lunch to accompany his reading for the night.
On a cold night in april, Tristan waited at the bus stop for the greying man. He spotted him across the street as he waved to him. Tristan, flashing his increasingly more common smile, returned his vivid wave in the direction of Mr. Wright.
"Hello Tristan", he began as always with a bright smile. His distinct aroma filled the hollow bus shelter - a mix of burnt wood, but also new paper and musk, and apparent paradox. After a brief conversation, Tristan took the book out of Mr. Wright’s frail hands.
The bus arrived shortly thereafter and Mr. Wright borded the exhausted vehical, taking his time going up the short stoop of stairs.
This book was rather unlike the other books that Mr. Wright had given him in the past months. His books had usually been full of journeys abundant with creatures, or filled to the brim with a quaint scenery, embodying an allegory in a far off place. The book he held in his hands was called “Darkness Visible”. It was a self-help book for those in the winter of their lives, much as Tristan was, though he hated to admit it.
He opened the page of the book and the spine cracked as the smell of fresh ink and paper filled his senses. This book was new.
He read with curiousity at first, which later turned to deep interest, and later still, turned into inspiration. The following week, Tristan returned this book to Mr. Wright as he told him that he would not be returning to the bus stop with any more new books. “I wish to see you again in the future”, he said, handing Tristan a slip of paper with his name and phone number on it.
Many years passed by and the two men kept regular contact, discussing the endevours of Tristan and his success in his new life.
"Doctor Spense, you have a visitor" his secretary informed him in her usual airy tone.
"Send them in, please"
A man with strong lines creased into his face turned the door handle and entered his office at Kingston University. Commonalities were exchanged and the man fought back a solemn look as he took a seat across from Tristan. The armchair engulphed him.
"Doctor Spense, I’m sorry to inform you that Mr. Connor Wright passed away this morning as he succumed to his long fight against cancer", he spoke as though he had said these words in practise. "I am here because you were included in his will and we need to speak about legalities".
Mr. Wright had left him his entire collection of books, including that first copy of the Odyssey that Tristan had cherised so many years earlier when he had had nothing else. As he opened the familliar book, an envelope fell to the ground.
He stooped to the ground to pick up the white sheet and put it in the pile of other loose pages when he saw in handwriting, “To Dr. Tristan Spense”.
He read the words and tears filled his eyes, prickling at the corners and pooling in the clear canvas of skin before his jaw.
"The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty…" - Mother Teresa
I treated you kindly holding the knowledge that you would have nothing to give in return because I saw something I once saw within myself during the darker days of my time. I helped you because I knew your soul would rot and perish in a sickly way should you go unnoticed. I helped you because I hate faith in you and knew you had the kind of illness that could be taken away with the love of a friend. I hope that I have been able to give you the medicide loneliness, desparity and hopelessness and that your cabinets are stocked full. Remember where you have come from, and remember that it is always darkest before dawn.
Your friend always,