People come and go so easily.
When I lived in Stoke Newington I used to ride down through Angel in the morning, and start the day with a latte at Carluccio’s on Bernard Street, WC1. After a few weeks the staff got used to me, and would remember my order, sometimes refuse my money, and give me the odd smile and nod as I sat by the window reading the paper, and they pottered around getting ready for the morning rush.
But when I moved back to south London my commute deposited me in a different part of the city, and overnight I stopped going to Carluccio’s. I wonder if the staff noticed, or asked themselves what might have become of me. We weren’t even on first-name terms, mind you, and there was no reason to say a formal goodbye. I just disappeared.
For the first few months of living in East Dulwich I’d come in through Blackfriars, and start the morning sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2, watching the dog walkers flirt with each other and wondering whether the personal trainers were having competitions to see who could get their client to do the most hilarious exercises. There was an elderly Indian lady who used to walk slow laps of the park in an old salwar kameez with a cardigan over it, trainers and earmuffs, just like the ones I used to see in the Lodhi Gardens in Delhi when I lived there. I used to wonder whether she lived locally, or worked locally, or was on holiday in the area, perhaps staying with her barrister daughter, or her son at LSE. It took me a while to notice when she disappeared, and I never saw her again after that.
And has anyone else seen the man with the shopping trolleys? He’s tall and well dressed, and the first time I saw him manoeuvring four trolleys full of bags along Mortimer Street (laboriously parking two a few yards up the road while he went back for the other two), I assumed he must work for one of the fashion companies in that area, and be moving garments over to their studio for a sample sale or something. But I saw him again and again, and eventually realized that he just spends his days endlessly moving his worldly goods around Soho and Fitzrovia.
One day last year I realized I hadn’t seen him for months, and wondered what had happened to him, aware that I’d probably never know. Maybe he’d died or gone to prison. Maybe he somehow managed to get himself off the streets and into a hostel or a job.
Then, a few weeks ago, he was back. I’ll never know where he went. But it was nice to see him again.