V saw the old man from her bare cardboard shelter and wondered what he was doing out at this time of night? When everyone else who had half a brain was warm in their homes. Those that had homes anyway. She was pondering these thoughts when she saw him fall face first into the snow that lined the footpath. She watched waited, counting the seconds till he got up out of the snow, but she saw no movement. By the time she had reached ten in her mind she knew she had to go help. Swearing as she was as warm as she was going to get in the cardboard box. She threw off the layers of newspaper and starting at a walk, that as no movement came, turned into a run.
“Hey,” she called out as she got closer. There he was face down in the snow. She was glad he was a little guy as she reached down and grabbed the back of his jacket. Pulling him backwards to his feet before taking his weight on her shoulder and slung an arm round his waist.
“Mister,” she said “Hey Mister are you alright?” the old men coughed as a reply. Still swaying he would have fallen again if not for the young girl’s support.
“Okay, which way is home?” she asked him and he feebly raised an arm and together they slowly made their way to his little home. When she went to leave he asked her to stay saying he had food and a warm fire to share with her. She helped him inside and was going to leave when she realised he was harmless. She thought food and some warmth was better than her cardboard box & blankets of yesterdays thrown away papers. The old man seemed to perk up once he was home. Though he coughed and wheezed a little here and there, he still managed to bring her a bowl of broth, hot and steamy. She ate while he lit up the room with candles and lanterns. As the room revealed itself V took it all in. The bookcases stacked with books and nic-nac’s and other oddities placed here and there round the small cosy room. While V surveyed the room and demolished her broth the old man studied her. His hope growing with each passing second. She was strong, courageous, unkept and unwashed, but there was something about her that excited him. He just needed to look into her eyes for a moment. Was it true could his would be rescuer be the new keeper he needed to find? V suddenly aware that the old man is watching her, and that her bowl is empty turns to face him. In doing so their eyes lock and it is all he needs.
“It’s you, you’re the one, I mean thank you, thank you for helping me. I wouldn’t have been able to get up out of the snow if you hadn’t helped me.”
“It was nothing,” said V uncomfortable in his attention and his praise. V lived by herself, she was what the cops called a run away and had been on the streets since the tender age of thirteen. A time when her step dad had gotten tired of getting no attention from her always drunk mother and started looking at her as fair game. V had packed a meagre amount of her shitty possessions walked out the door and never looked back. She had always done odd jobs for her meals, washing up in the back of restaurants was her usual. She went to the shelters now she was older on the really freezing nights. Most nights she found places to sleep, the back of the bakery was one of her favourites. Like a cat she slept in small snatches and always had one eye open wary of danger that sleeping out in the night could bring.
“No, it wasn’t nothing. It was a heroic thing to do and tells me lots about your nature.” said the old man. He coughed a little afterwards and though she didn’t really know him it worried V.
“Why don’t you sit down and have some broth that cough sounds nasty,” she said to him skipping over his heroic comment again uncomfortable in the old guys gaze. He had a way of looking at her like he was looking so deep he could see her very soul.
The old man served himself a bowl of broth and sat down opposite her. He pointed at the saucepan on the stove and told her there was more if she wanted it. V watched him stir his broth and blow on it before taking a shaky spoonful. V got up and scooped two more ladles full into her bowl and sat back down across from him. Then both of them, at their own paces, filled their stomachs. A flicker from high up on one of the shelves caught her peripheral vision and she glanced up wondering what she had seen? There was nothing up there but books and an old teapot nothing that would cause the shine she had seen. When she looked back at the old man he was watching her again a smile on his face.
The broth was like nothing she had ever tasted before, spicy, warm and hardy. She felt fuller than she had in a very long time. Her bowl was empty again so she took it over and washed it in the little sink before leaving it to rest on the drying rack. It was time she left, her good deed done, it was time to head back to the cardboard box before someone else homeless found her little patch. She turned to face him and again he had a small smile playing about his lips.
“Thank you for the broth it was unlike anything I have ever had, but I better be going,” she said to him all the while he seemed to be looking at her soul again. He held up a hand and said “Please, stay keep an old man company, I have a story to tell you.” He finished with only a wheeze in the middle of his sentence. His eyes still locked with hers could sense her reluctance but went on anyway. He already knew she would stay, her eyes told him she was the one.
“I promise it will change your life and you can have the bed for the night I will sleep in the rocking chair. It’s better than out there on your own.”
The warmth in the little room was creeping into her bones making her relaxed as did her full stomach. Again, she reassured herself he was harmless. A warm bed for the night when compared to a cold cardboard mattress made the decision a simple one.