I don’t mind the mumbles. He’s always been Old Henry to me. The one who found me when I had been sleeping rough for a week.
“Girl can’t be sleeping in the rain,” he mumbled to the world and covered my shivers with cardboard. After that I stuck around. He’s always good for a smoke or a sip of goon, and he knows the best places to look for a free feed.
I know what he is on about this time. The bloke in the sharp suit. The tall, dark-haired one who likes to take a walk in the park. Old Henry don’t speak about it, but sometimes he mumbles.
A hipster dude in skinny jeans walks past our bench, his barber-neat beard shining in the sun. The clothes say shabby, retro, but the beard says weekly trimming and Moroccan Oil massages.
“Spare us a smoke mate,” says Old Henry, keeping his eyes low to give Skinny Jeans a chance to feel good about himself. Skinny smiles and hands him a fag, even lights it. Old Henry takes an appreciative drag and passes it to me. Smoke curls above our park bench as we watch other people with better places to go.
It’s late afternoon on Tuesday. It’s always Tuesday when the bloke in the suit comes. He’s wearing the tired-angry smile you put on when you don’t want the world to know how you feel. He walks past our bench and doesn’t look at us. Just another office pony like all the others who pretend we aren’t there.
“Spare us a smoke mate.”
The suit sees Old Henry and the tired smile fades. He stands there, arms at his side as if he’s scared they’ll fly away. Old Henry gets to his feet and shambles closer to the suit, staring at him as if his tired old eyes are seeing something new. He puts a hand on the suit’s shoulder.
“It’s not my fault,” he says.
“Get away from me you dirty dero,” screams the suit in the too-high voice of a boy stuck in a man’s body.
“Please,” says Old Henry, his hands stretched out to beg.
The suit lashes out and hits Henry on the nose. Old Henry falls to the ground holding his bleeding nose and bawling.
“You know what that’s for,” says the suit as he turns and walks off to the office towers. He doesn’t even look back.
I hold Old Henry until the sobbing stops. He wipes his tired eyes, and we walk to the little marble fountain where the schoolkids sometimes toss in a coin when they think we’re not looking. I help him wash off the blood and we sit there silent until the warmth creeps from the day.
“C’mon mate, the sun’s going,” he says and we walk to the warm bench on top of the hill. The one that looks out over the city. It’s as cold as anywhere else, but the view feels good. Old Henry pulls the cardboard out from where he had stashed it last night and spreads it on the park bench. He lies down staring at the view.
“Night mate,” he says to me then he rolls over, and above the roaring silence of the neon city I hear him whisper.
“Gawd, I hate me brother sometimes.”