In this town you mostly meet people crossing the road – slipping around the cars that see you then put a bit of a squirt on. And it’s not unusual to come out of that exercise a little closer to the stranger by your side than you were when you both stepped off the curb.
Big man this fellow, solid, grey-headed, a drinker’s nose. An earring in his left ear. We walked down the block together talking about the near-misses, he needed a tin of paint and I was after a lottery ticket. Maybe this time I’ll get the midnight phone-call.
‘The ring in your ear,’ I said to him, ‘know what it really means?’
‘Yeah, if you wear one in your right ear it means you’re gay.’
So here he is showing everyone in town he’s not. That’s the way I see it.
‘That’s bullshit. Back in the day it meant you sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, heading west.’
Now we have to dodge two women wheeling prams. Probably got out of the car that nearly ran us down.
‘And if you sailed around Cape Horn heading east it was ok to wear one in your other ear, plus you could eat with both feet up on the table.’
He had a collection of old tattoos on his thick forearms and they were faded, hardly visible under the fur.
‘Navy, were you?’
He turned to look at me, so I touched my own, bare forearm.
‘Tatts, where did you get yours?’
‘Prison. I put ’em on meself.’
He had plenty.
Another couple of steps on and I turned to him again, stuck out my hand.
He took it.
Then he went his way and I went mine.