I did a few hours work in the office yesterday. No hardship. I wasn’t kicking down walls or drilling holes through concrete floors, like I used to do on my Saturdays many years ago.
I had parked the car way up on the hill because my usual parking corner was occupied by the Saturday shopping folk. As I trudged up the incline, after I’d done my hours, I checked my watch and started to look forward to something in that low-wattage, back-of-the-brain sort of a way that you don’t even know is happening until after the feeling has been subverted.
It was about that time when the guy would be out sitting on his window cill.
Every day, around this time, this guy sits out on his window cill and has a leisurely smoke and studies the crossword. If he was deep in the consideration of some cryptic clue, I wouldn't say anything to him. I wouldn’t want to break his concentration or disturb his little well-deserved break from work. But if his head was up and he was looking around him, I would always say ‘hello’ and he would always say ‘hello’ back. Not much else. Maybe an occasional observation on the weather, as is customary around these parts. Nothing more than that though. A quick hello and then pass on.
When I worked my way up the hill yesterday, at the correct time, I hadn’t done it in a month or two. Revised parking arrangements had meant that my car was now, more often than not, in that other place and the route to it didn’t take me past the guy’s shop. Perhaps that’s why I was actually looking forward to something as simple as a ‘quick’ hello and then pass on. I don’t know. It was always nice to see him there with his rollie and his folded newspaper. It was kind of reassuring or something.
But he wasn’t there. There was no sign of him. I was disappointed, in a little way.
Then, just as I walked past the place, I remembered that, of course, he wouldn’t be there. He had died, some months before. He was gone. I had known this, of course. I knew it at the time. I was sad about it and I remembered him with my friends. But I never really missed him.
Not until yesterday.
Yesterday, I missed him. I never really knew him beyond that occasional ‘hello’ but yesterday I finally identified the little gap that was left in my life as a result of his no longer being around.
I often find this. I often find that it takes quite a long time before I actually get around to missing somebody who has died.
This isn’t meant to sound all reserved and cold-hearted. I’m just like everyone else, when someone dies I am sad and I mourn them and remember them but, for me at least, missing them is something quite different to all that. You can’t choose a moment in which to decide to miss someone At least I don’t think you can. It’s like a burglar in your head that turns up when you least expect it and kicks your coffee table over.
I remember, after Dad died, I felt all the stuff you would expect to feel. In his later years, when he was on his own, I used to phone him up every night for a chat. Nothing much, just a ‘hello’ and pass on. One evening, months after he died, I had a good story to tell and I looked forward to telling him it. I knew he’d get a laugh, maybe tell the story on, with his own embellishments. I had the phone in my hand before I remembered. I missed him then. That’s how it tends to happen, to me at least.
I didn’t mean to go on about this today. It’s just the absence of the man and his ciggie and his crossword has stayed in my head so I thought that made it worth writing it down.
There are people who are gone from my life, important people, and I don’t think I’ve even really started to miss them yet. Someday, there will be some corner of a room or some conversation where that person should be and I will turn to them to see how they are and hear what they have to say and they won’t be there.
I’ll feel it then. I’ll miss them then for sure. It’s a good thing, all in all. It reminds me I care.