Motionless, the man sat staring out across the wild grey water. The surf pounded the sand. Spray carried on the strong wind, swept up the dunes to the path, road and houses that lined the coast. I walked past the bench where he sat. My dog, Tasha, trotting along at my side eager to reach the beach.
His gaze didn’t waver. He sat upright. Dignified yet sad. Dark hands held quietly in his lap, a thick fleece jacket hugged against his slight frame, corduroy trousers and a strong pair of Australian work boots, which looked incongruous on this African man.
I knew he was from Africa. It wasn’t just his skin colour and cropped, tightly curled hair. His features were familiar to me. I guessed he came from East Africa where I had worked for many years. I wondered why he was here. A tourist? Unlikely. A refugee? Maybe.
Facing the oncoming weather, I turned down the stairs. Tasha tugged on her lead eager for release. Storm clouds darkened the sky. I could see a grey curtain of rain approaching. We would have less than ten minutes before the front hit us.
I unclipped Tasha’s lead and she raced across the sand chasing imaginary ghosts, sniffing piles of seaweed and disturbed sand, and occasionally looking around to check I was still there. I walked fast. It was going to be a short walk so I needed to make the most of it.
The sky had blackened. As we returned along the beach and ran up the steps, wind and rain lashed us. He still sat there, unmoving. Should I offer a lift? Shelter? Water ran down his face. Was it mixed with tears?
Tasha, enthusiasm gone, tail between her legs and head down, stood next to the car. Already wet-through she was not happy. I dithered for a while. Then I made a decision. No, I wouldn’t break into this man’s solitude. I headed for the car.
As the heat seeped into me in the hot shower, thoughts of this stranger returned. His image was to haunt me all day. I wondered once again why he was there looking across the Indian Ocean to his homeland. Why on this beach? If he was a refugee he was unlikely to be living in the surrounding area, for this was predominantly home to those who had made it in life, financially and socially. No one else was seen there besides the occasional backpackers and, in the summer, transitory groups of tourist day-trippers.
A phone call broke into my thoughts
The opening paragraphs of a short story ‘Shopping Trolleys’.