By Daniel Soule
The old man sat in the corner of the bus stop, perched on the metal plank they called a seat. The kind of seat they, people in councils and town planning, decided it would be good to install so that people like him couldn’t sleep on them, moving them on to be somewhere else, anywhere else but asleep on the bus stops at night.
It wasn’t night now, though people still seemed not to notice him. Perhaps they averted their eyes because of what he represented or how he appeared.
One of the old man’s hands was twisted and gnarled, like a knot in the branch of the world tree, deformed and bulbous. His other hand missed some fingers, and his neck flaked dead skin in white drifts onto his collar. Warts grew on his face, and a boil, red and angry, lay on his neck beneath an ear. His hair was unclean and flattened back with strokes of his gnarled hand.
He sat waiting.
They came in ones and twos, sometimes threes. A bus would pull up and move along with them on it and others would come.
While he waited, he thought of his brothers. In the old days, they would ride out together, visiting places near and far, going on great adventures, seeing the best and worst of it. That was life and they were a part of it. But now he rarely saw them together, though they carried on the family business in lands far away.
A mother and her toddler walked into the bus shelter. He was a beautiful little boy with curly black hair and eyes of walnut. The mother appeared not to see the old man, instead she consulted a timetable on the wall and checked her phone.
The little boy noticed the old man sitting all by himself. Children sometimes saw him, especially the little ones, when language hasn’t yet divided up the world for them into this but not that, changing everything into only some things, as though the words matter and not the spaces in between.
It was at this moment that the old man’s heart sank because his sister arrived. She knocked the phone from the mother’s hand, who assumed she merely fumbled it. The mother bent to pick up the phone letting go of the little boy. The old man’s sister, Fate, took the little boy’s hand and led him to her brother, Pestilence. The little boy smiled and put his tiny perfect hand on top of the gnarled hand of the world tree. Tears, saltier than a wailing mother’s, welled in the old man’s eyes and he returned a tired smile.
“I’m so sorry,” said the mother, gathering her perfect little boy. She didn’t look at the old man. She couldn’t.
A bus pulled up and the woman and her little boy rode away, heading off to see one of the old man’s brother’s soon.
Author Bio: Dan was an academic but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where he now lives. But he was born in England and raised in Byron’s home town, which the bard hated but Dan does not. They named every other road after Byron. As yet no roads are named after Dan but several children are. He tries to write the kind of stories he wants to read and aims for readers to want to turn the page. Dan’s work has featured in Number Eleven, Storgy, the Dime Show Review, Short Tale 100, Phantaxis, Devolution Z, and TheGhostStory.com