In our recent Creative Voice 2 classes, we’ve been using a variety of things as sources of inspiration. Last week it was dreams (the one time I desperately needed one, I didn’t have any, so I made something up instead), and the week before that we used old photographs. In the first week, we simply had to think of a person we knew or had encountered. There are many things I could have written about countless people I know, both good and bad, but I decided I’d pluck someone random out of thin air, and that’s how I came to write about the man at the bus stop. His story is a relatively simple one, but it isn’t something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry – it touched me and it might just touch you too.
In the autumn of 2016, when there was a 90-minute bus journey between me and my workplace at the time, I was shivering with my coat wrapped tightly around my body as I waited for the bus to arrive. It was nearing 7am and obviously still dark at that time of year, so you would be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t be up for talking – and I wasn’t, until the man beside me piped up. He was an elderly gentleman, and if I’m honest, he looked rather stereotypical complete with flat cap and walking stick. Even at the age of 85, though, he had lost none of his energy, and as we gradually established a conversation he exuded a great deal of warmth, particularly when he spoke about his wife.
I had noticed upon first seeing him that he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and he eventually told me that he was taking them to her. He’d been doing this, a four-hour round trip, six mornings a week for at least a couple of years, ever since she’d gone into a care home with dementia. He didn’t go on Sundays. They were his quiet days, which he spent alone in the house they shared – he never mentioned any children or grandchildren. I only ever knew him as a devoted husband, who told me about his wife with the kind of love I haven’t seen or heard anywhere since. He talked about their life together, what they’d done for a living, the places they’d travelled to, and what he did for her now she was in the home. He cooked for her, cleaned for her, made sure she always had clothes to wear – whatever it was, he’d help out. Apparently, she didn’t recognise him very often, but whenever there was a moment of lucidity, they could reminisce about some of their most precious moments together. Even though the woman he’d spent a lifetime with was ebbing away before his eyes, his enthusiasm for seeing her every day never seemed to waver once – I remember him telling me that despite everything, “she’s still my girl”. I couldn’t help but think that a lot of guys I knew could learn a thing or two from him.
These conversations continued for around three months, ending when the Christmas break arrived. When I started work again in January 2017, and arrived at the bus stop for my first day back, the man was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t seem like a good sign at all, since he had been so adamant about his determination to take the journey whenever he could. Then the bus pulled up, and the driver got out to help me aboard. “By the way”, he said, as he put the ramp down on the pavement, “the gentleman you’ve been speaking to wanted me to let you know his wife passed away over Christmas.”
My heart sank at that moment, as I know his will have done. We never even knew each other’s names, but I did feel like we’d established a nice little connection, and there was a definite dampener on the rest of that day for me. I haven’t seen the man anywhere since, and I don’t even know if he’s still with us. If he is, I hope he’s gotten to a place where he’s comfortable and content, and if he isn’t, I hope someone was there to show him love and support in the aftermath of his loss. It’s what he would have done for his wife, unquestionably and unconditionally. If you ask me, the man at the bus stop was the definition of true devotion.