I get teary every time I drive past it. Which is quite often, as it’s near the end of my street on the way out of town towards the highway.
That stretch of road becomes long and narrow, without pavements or overhead lights, and cars can drive at 80kms (or faster) after leaving the slow limits of suburbia.
It’s officially Winter now, so despite my tropical address, it’s dark by 5.30pm, as everyone hurries home to their families and snug houses.
I can’t remember exactly how long he’s been around, but it’s years. Years and years of just walking in sandals on the road’s edge, leaning more and more to one side in his spine as time passes.
Who is he, my son and I used to wonder? And why is he always walking, sometimes wearing a garbage bag as a jacket, whatever the weather. Nut brown legs, stained clothes, occasionally carrying a stick with litter impaled on the end of it; always walking, no matter the weather.
A couple of years ago, we passed him while giving a lift to my son’s friend, and as usual I exclaimed at the man’s purpose and mystery. Our young passenger said his Dad had told him that the man’s whole family was killed in a car accident.
He’d supposedly never been in a car again.
The teenager said he thought his name was Alfred.
A few months ago, I walked into the Post Office in time to hear the mysterious walker humbly ask at the counter if there was any mail being kept for him?
‘Just one envelope Alfred, that’s all.’
He walked quietly past me out the door, with that particular tilt his body has, and I couldn’t resist mentioning him to the cashier.
‘So he is called Alfred! We’ve always wondered. Does he live round here?’
‘He has a house along C… Drive, on the way out of town. But we keep his mail here, because he’s rarely at home.’
‘Yes, I’ve seen him walking. We all have. He walks a lot hey, in all weathers?’
‘He had a terrible tragedy occur in his life, and he’s been fragile ever since. A terrible event, so he just keeps moving…’. Her voice cracked a little, and my eyes watered in response; we both knew we were talking about a man in deep pain, and that no one could salve it for him.
Which makes his unique personal road sign all the more glorious.
Someone in my town has gone to the trouble of designing, printing, constructing and installing a totally illegal warning sign for all of us, and I am moved to tears. I don’t know if Alfred has even noticed it, or what he’d think if he did, but I’m so touched that it’s there.
Really: have you ever seen a more beautiful thing?
In complete gratitude for small town life and community caring, love G xO