I can't stay out like this. I'd spent the day getting lost. I guess that's what I set out to do.
But now the rain is coming down harder and being lost is holding less and less charm as it soaks through each layer of clothing so I decided to find somewhere at least a little dry to settle down for the night and try not to drown. It was easier said than done though. I'd left my wallet in the car when I abandoned it before getting the train here and there was no way to get back now. Damn. Why don't they seem to have those deep doorways anymore? Years ago I swear you saw people asleep in doorways as regular as anything.
I walked through the streets lined with revellers off out for their nights of drinking, dancing and Christ knows what else and couldn't even envy them. I walked past restaurants with couples staring into each other's faces over candles that flickered like lies. I walked across roads, waiting for cars to trundle by filled with families, children sleeping in the back. I walked for hours, past houses filled with light that would make you feel warm if you weren't so damn cold. I walked to where the roads out of town met the motorway. I walked until I found one of those underpasses, those ones like you've seen a hundred times in movies about the Bronx or some such. Under there were 4 people, all staring into the rain or a burning drum, none of them talking or doing anything at all. All you could hear was the hiss of the rain, the faint 'pop!' of the fire and the cackling of the wind. I cast my eyes over the mottled faces of these forgotten men and none of them showed any objection to me being there so I settled in a corner near enough to the fire to get a little warmth to watch the rain and wait for dawn. I guess I must have slept some. All of a sudden there were drunken snores and the fire was just a glow. The sky had that slightly lighter shade that tells you you're getting through the night and there was the pounding of the traffic overhead to cut through the quiet. The only thing that remained was the rain. Even that had changed though, where before it was a steady pounding that almost hurts as it kissed your skin, now it was murmuration rain, that drifts like starlings in the torrid, swirling wind and falls in every direction and will soak you to your bones - top to bottom, front and back. I sat there watching for a while, then closed my eyes against the tears and missed my family.
I knew of course I was a fool to leave, despite it all. I knew I'd let everyone down - them, myself. But still, I knew I couldn't go back. The world was too pastel coloured there and hurt my head, every day. That didn't mean I didn't miss the cloying comfort of it and wonder almost constantly if I'd made a terrible mistake.
"Makes you remember doesn't it?" The gruff caress of a strangers words cuts through my gloom.
"Sorry? I don't..."
"The rain, the night, makes you remember. I've seen that look, under here, somewhere else, too many somewhere else's. Even worn it a few times myself," The expression he was wearing now though was full of age, bargain wine and sleep.
He was probably in his 60's, although he could have been any age at all. His hair was grey and wild as thickets and he had a map of age lines and blown blood vessels across his face that shows he has had tough times and a fair few strong drinks to ease them. He had on one of those coats that seems to be woven mainly from stains and rips with a few clumps of thick fabric linking them all, it looked like it had once been mossy green, now just the mudded colour of swamps.
"Come on over here son," he said, "Let me tell you tell you something." I went. He was prodding at the embers in the drum with what looked like a battered old windscreen wiper.
"You obviously ain't been at this long."
"It's my first night. I've been sleeping in my car, but that's... that's gone." I didn't feel like explaining, and I'm not sure why. "You?"
"Years. 6 months under this very piece of road. After a while you get tired of the moving about and find yourself a little home." Home. I looked around and felt low. "And I know I'm gonna die here. That's why we're speaking. You don't want to spend your time remembering, no matter the rain. You want to spend it living." He didn't talk like I thought he would, to look at him. His accent was pure education and he spoke his words so carefully. "This is your first night out, you've left a family?"
"How... can you know that?" Really, how?
"Ah, I've seen dozens like you. Walk out on their lives and spend all their time regretting it, and none of it living the life they left for. That's the crime son. not the leaving, but the leaving for nothing. You've only just gone and you're here with us bums"
"I've got a wife that's cheating on me, and a son that does well in school, reads his books and doesn't listen to a word you tell him. They both live more in a day than I have in ten years, and I just couldn't bear it." I've no idea why I was telling him this, there was something about this man though, that made me sure it was safe with him. The thought of my boy made the world go prismic as the tears stung my eyes again and I hoped he hadn't noticed. He was coughing, a hacking, searing cough that made me believe what he said about dying here, it wouldn't be long either.
"I had a wife too, and kids. They were... lost. My wife most of all, she got lost and took my babies with her. After that I couldn't get on in the world. I was a teacher - see, and seeing the kids each day just reminded me of my girls. And my wife. I don't blame her though son, I really don't." She'd left him and taken the kids I supposed. Although, there was something in his face that wasn't there before, a far offness and a crack in his voice that made me wonder.
"What happen..." But before I had a chance to get the words out he seemed to snap out of it and continued.
"You know," he said in his tight-lipped, eloquent way, "everybody good gets down sometimes. Time and the wretched world take a shoulder each and press you down in the grit, the rain drenched streets soak through to your knees and it feels as though you can't bear it. But then that old sun comes out and beats on your face, the wet pavement smell blooms in your lungs and those burdens don't exactly lift, but you can find the strength to bear them and stand up regardless. That's the worlds kindness I guess. The sun always comes out."
I just sat and stared into the fire and thought about what he said. I watched the embers pulsing with the heat and resolved to go out, and live the life I've wasted for these last years. Warm tendrils of light were just creeping their way across the sky and the rain had slowed to a last few sparkles in the early morning air and I turned to him to thank him, but saw it was no use. His eyes had glazed and turned to smoke, reflecting the orange glow of dawn. I reached over and closed them for him and whispered to the daybreak.
"Yeah, that's the kindness, the sun always comes out."
Simon is a writer living in Manchester. You can find him on twitter and by checking back here every month.