You are the man sitting outside the cafe across the way. You are there often, and your rusty coloured dog, a shepherd or working dog of some kind, sits by you at the end of a lead.
The weather is cold, but you sit outside. You are wearing a jacket and a dark coloured akubra. You’re under the cover of the cafe’s awning.
Some days I see you arrive, other days you are sitting there already, you and your dog. You walk with a bit of a limp. You walked here, with the dog who I’m calling Dusty. The two of you seem to own that table, that space. When I chance to glance up and you’re there, a feeling comes over me, that says, of course. It is sensible, logical. Inevitable. Right.
You don’t work – this is a weekday, and you are not in a hurry. You are not on your way to somewhere else. The purpose of your visit is to be here, now. This is what you are doing today. This is where you are.
The waitress stops for a chat. You’re there often, did I say that? She has greeted you familiarly, you’re a regular customer. Her name is probably Lynne, and she might call you Des, short for Desmond. There’s no way for me to hear, but the two of you catch up. I can see it all – she asks how you’re keeping, you make an observation about how busy the street is. She pats Dusty, takes your order – maybe you’ve ordered a cappuccino, maybe a cup of tea – and asks if you want an oatmeal slice. I imagine that you make a gently disparaging remark about the vegan baked goods they’ve got listed on the board, and she points out that sugar is vegan too. You both laugh. Lynne walks back inside the cafe. She is closer to your age than the other waitresses that work there.
When I look back again you have your cup – I’m going to say it’s tea – in front of you. A mother with a young child approaches. I see the mother nervously ask if the child can pat Dusty, you lift your cup of tea in encouragement and the child stretches out her little hand and places it on Dusty’s head. Dusty likes the attention, and her tail flaps the ground gratefully.
Dusty is white around the whiskers, like you. She looks like a good dog. Another lady approaches with a bit of white fluff on a lead, and Dusty gets up, wagging furiously. You and the lady exchange a couple of words while the dogs greet each other and make friends forever. The lady moves on down the street, she has some shopping to do. The little white fluff keeps turning back to look at Dusty until the lady gives it a word. Dusty lays back down on the pavement facing white fluff’s disappearing tail end. Your dog’s ears and eyebrows are up, now they go down. Dusty lays her chin on her front paws.
You are the man sitting at the cafe across the way, drinking a cup of tea, and I have named you Des.
You might have marched last week, with the pipe bands and the banners and medals and elderly people in wheelchairs with tartan blankets across their knees. Alongside teenagers with misplaced smiles on their faces. Your limp would have been in context there, as your own medals clanked on your chest with each step. Korea, or maybe Vietnam.
Maybe you’re not a veteran. Maybe your limp is from a car accident. Or some kind of a farming incident. Or a rugby tackle. Or gout.
Maybe your limp was a birth defect. Maybe against the odds you struggled and prevailed, even when nature was against you. Or perhaps nature’s preferential treatment of others turned you bitter, and you have spent your life venting your frustrations on the people closest to you. Maybe you’re a violent man, with a wife cowering at home, too afraid to venture out. Maybe the deformity gave rise to feelings of inadequacy and birthed the need to express your power over the young and the innocent and in fact the deformity is actually inside yourself…
I glance back at you across the street and I see Dusty. Time slows, traffic noises retreat. The moment stretches as we all breathe. In. Out.
Dusty. You can’t be a bad person and have a good dog. It just wouldn’t make sense. And Dusty is clearly a good dog.
You stand and Dusty gets to her feet in expectation. You place some notes from your wallet on the table and place your cup on top. You gather Dusty’s leash and head off down the street.