Even through the broken windows, the waning sun bestowed a sense of elegance to that old hollow-eyed factory on the corner. It always surprised Gilly how a place so wearied and worn could still be given just a touch of grace by the light of the sun.
Gilly was half walking, half shuffling, her hands jammed into her jeans as she neared home, just a couple blocks away. It was a hard part of town, a forlorn place that had seen its fair share of good times and very bad ones, too.
Gilly paid no attention to the never-ending thrum of noise in the background, people yelling, a few laughing. Horns honked in the distance as she walked along the garbage-strewn road. Further ahead was the park dedicated to some faceless person now long dead. Who cares, she thought. What a little bit of nothing, this place. Well, she could cut through the park and get home faster.
As she got closer, Gilly could see some commotion up ahead. Someone was standing there and a bunch of kids were grabbing things from him. Oh yeah, Gilly knew that lot. She picked up her speed and yelled …
“Hey!! Leave him alone …! Hey, I’m talkin’ to you … I said leave him alone!!” They’d looked up by then, realising who it was.
“Oh, don’t worry Gilly, my love. It’s just this stupid old man … geez, what a stink!” as he kicked one of the bags that he’d grabbed from the man.
“I said get outta here now!” While Gilly was no doubt small and wiry, the other kids in the neighbourhood knew well enough not to mess with her. So, fun over, they reluctantly began to turn to leave, some still laughing, others clearly relieved that they were moving on.
“Fine! We’re outta here anyway … better go help grandpa over there.” And with a laugh, they wandered on.
Gilly turned around and started to gather up some of the bags that they must’ve pulled out of the old gentleman’s trolley. It was just one of the shopping trolleys that always seem to be left on their side, often on the edges of roads, waif-like and alone.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Gilly said, as she handed him his things. “They’re idiots and don’t have a clue most of the time … Most of them are okay. Just one or two are the lead idiots I guess.
“Thank you very much” the gentleman said as he carefully placed the bags back into his trolley. “They didn’t do too much harm really,” he said as he sat back down on the bench.
“No, I know. It’s just not right messing with people like that,” Gilly shared, as she plunked herself on the bench.
“Well, I owe it to you for lending me a much-needed hand,” he offered, nodding his head slightly to her and giving her a gentle smile. “You must’ve been heading home and it was just my luck that you decided to come through the park when you did.”
“Yeah, I was headed home I suppose,” she said, a bit of a wry laugh as she looked up at him.
“Home,” he repeated.
“Yeah, home …” she added with a sigh. “Where do you live? Or is that a stupid thing to ask …?
“Oh no. By no means. No, ma’am. This is my home …” as he gestured half-grandly at the surrounding park “ … for the moment.” He patted the bench and his trolley, “I can usually just sleep on this bench and come morning, I have nature’s best and most perfect alarm as the birds never fail to sing me awake with the first light,” he laughed at her, his eyes sparkling with the pure joy of it!
“Geez, the way you make it sound, it’s not half bad,” she said, smiling widely. “It’s nice what you say,” she continued, looking up at him. “You say I was heading home, but that’s a bit of a laugh.”
“What do you mean,” said the old gentleman as he straightened another one of his bags.
“Well, it’s complicated. I mean, for sure, my mom may be there. Likely not though. Never know when she’ll be in or in what state,” she scoffed. “She’s tried to quit, but in the end, she just starts drinking again. I’m sure my little brother’s asleep right now … he’ll be okay.”
The old gentleman nodded as he listened, looking ahead as the sun’s rays were dwindling. “That must be difficult at times, I expect,” he shared.
“Yeah, well I can handle myself …. I don’t know why I’m telling you this!”
“Oh not to worry. I have all the time in the world,” he smiled.
She was a little uncertain, but went on. “Well, I don’t know … it’s just that I always have to keep an eye on my little brother to make sure things are okay for him. No one else’ll do it, that’s for sure,” Gilly explained. “It’s no big deal. It is what it is and all that. But sometimes, geez, you just wanna get outta here. Forget it ever really existed.” She looked at him and added, “I’m thinking I’ll head into the city next spring.”
“Yes, certainly. But forgive me for saying this … you don’t seem the sort to cut and run. There’s a strength you seem to have … a strong will. Sorry. I don’t mean to pry. It just seems that way. You definitely helped me just now,” he added.
Gilly smiled, almost shyly, like he’d somehow peeked under her armour. “I s’ppose. It’s just sometimes you run outta energy and just feel kinda empty. Sick of it all … tired … you know what I mean?” she said looking into his eyes.
He smiled and began to unwrap one of the packages in the bottom of his trolley. “The sun’s going down,” he said. “Look out over the hills over there. They say this is actually the longest day of the year.”
“Geez, I’ve never thought about things like that … a day is a day is a day … whatever” Gilly laughed. “Don’t know anything about that!”
He began to play his instrument, “Uh huh. It’s the longest day and it’s a time they say when there’s apparently magic afoot … isn’t that interesting!”
“What’s that …???” Gilly said looking at what he was playing.
“Oh, it’s an accordion. I’ve had it all my life. Have to protect it … when I run into a bit of trouble … like earlier,” he smirked.
As he spoke the light of the sinking sun began to paint the sky an elegant mosaic of reds, pinks, purples, and blues and all the while the achingly melodic strains of his music floated into the air.
“So there you go,” the old gentleman assured Gilly. “If it’s energy you need, you can come here, any day of the year, but especially now. Take this energy and drink it in and most of all, you must always believe. Do you believe Gilly … in your place in the world?”
Gilly listened attentively, not really sure of what the old gentleman was saying. “Well I’m not sure, but you know, somehow there’s a part of me that does I think. Believe,” she said hesitantly and then began to smile.
“That’s my girl,” he said, beaming.
Gilly laughed at him, “but I’d better get going now. Maybe I’ll come by tomorrow, eh! See how you’re doing. And let me know if those kids are bugging you. If they are, I’ll set them straight.”
“Oh, I know you will, Gilladrea.”
It was nothing that Gilly ever does, but she quickly gave her new friend a peck on the cheek. “Okay, gotta go” and she smiled, turning to leave.
Gilly pushed her hands deep into her pockets and began walking home, a slight skip in her step. She quickly turned to wave a final good-bye, but to her amazement, he wasn’t there any more. That’s weird. Where’d he go? She cast her eye around, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Ah, well, maybe she’d see him tomorrow. She looked around again to check. But maybe not.
She kept walking, sure that she could still hear the ever so faint and haunting music of the accordion.