Satchels, shoes, & stories

A fella sitting on one of the couches in plain view if you’re looking, but otherwise like anyone at the library on a Wednesday afternoon. Summer and he had a tramping backpack. Probably in from the heat.

He looked around the way I looked around. We watched each other, sly, silently ciphering the other’s story.

His shoes new runners. His shirt sweaty cotton and everything blue. His cargo shorts blue grey like a camouflaged ship. Shirt a letigre polo, blue like it just stopped raining. Sneakers blue and trimmed in white. Satchel a navy macpac, filled.

From his pack he pulled a cardboard foolscap, half bound with duct tape. From the foolscap he pulled a stack of laminated white cardstock and a whiteboard marker. He flipped through the stack:


Free dental checkups

Help me

Don’t trust me

Aliens no charge


Trying to

He removed the $15.90 card from the stack. From the satchel he took a blackened towel, damped it with a spritz from a bottle clipped to the macpac, and erased the numbers. With the black marker he wrote 52.00. He slid the rewritten card back into the stack and the stack into the foolscap and the foolscap into the macpac and he left.

A moment later I looked toward his empty spot and saw an uncancelled ferry ticket. No way he’ll get back to the city without that. I picked up the ticket and went out to the street to find him.

He was across the road and a block away, outside the ice cream shop. As I approached I saw that he had several of the laminated cards strung together into a sentence:

Trying to



Can you

Help me

I said hello and he said hello. I showed him the ferry ticket and I said I found this where you were sitting at the library.

He spoke in a radio announcer voice: oh I saw that too. It’s not mine. But thank you for thinking of me.

Then I went to the ice cream shop and ordered a mint chocolate cone. I ate the cone outside on a bench. I noticed: nobody stopped to help to the man. When I was done with the ice cream cone I returned to the library and put the ferry ticket back precisely where I found it, slightly crumpled as it was.

I left and walked past the sign man. A woman in a white brimmed hat had stopped to talk to him. As I walked past I overheard the man explain: I just use the signs to start conversations.

Then I walked home and sat on the verandah with a glass of ice water and watched the ships cut through the shipping channel. One was one I hadn’t seen: a ship-shipping ship full of ships. Yachts and launches ferried across the sea to our harbour to float where they’d never floated before.

And I realised: everyone on the boat would have a satchel, shoes, and a story. As so many of us do.

Season the meat, not the mixture.