I left my basement flat in a downpour, rushing to avoid the rain that lashed at my face, gripping a useless black umbrella. I was on my way to the green grocer’s down the road for fruit, which I crave all year round, but especially in winter. Mrs McLean was at the front of the shop, in a cheerful mood, and she greeted each customer with a friendly Scots welcome: “Hello, you’re brave, not too wet? Isn’t it awful!” I was damp and grumpy, so I just nodded.
He came running in, as I had, two feet tall, squealing with glee and shaking his sodden yellow curls, his father behind him. His face was round and pink, not pretty but he had bold eyes and the vitality of a young animal. He explored the shop, holding on to the counter and the stacked boxes of fruit and vegetables. By the potatoes, by the green beans, by the oranges, flicking the top of a pineapple, clinging to Mrs McLean’s leg and beaming at me, a surge of sunshine in a drowned world.
– “Nom nom nom nom nom. Apple!” he tottered towards a box of Cox’s orange pippins and made kissing noises, poking an apple with his fingers.
“Now Max darling, go anywhere you please, but don’t bite my fruit, don’t leave wee teeth marks all over my apples.” Mrs McLean’s red hand reached down and picked one for him:
“This one is all for you.”
He bit into it with a sigh, as though it had been the only food in the world, then waved his apple in triumph. “Apple!”
“He loves apples”, his father smiled. “Keeps the doctor away!”
Who cares about the rain outside when a child is learning to walk, talk and live before my eyes, so curious and so engaged? I should get out more often. I should meet someone, have a child of my own. When Max and his father had gone, Mrs McLean and I smiled at each other. “Children, they make it all worthwhile, don’t they?” she said.
I wandered home ignoring the weather, with an armful of mimosa I hadn’t thought of buying before the glimpse I had of a little boy.
The flowers are still alive, their heady smell fills the living room with Mediterranean winter fragrance. Max is dead. I walked past his parents’ furniture shop today and saw his picture in a new silver frame, with a short message: “To all our friends and neighbours”. Their beloved son Max had passed away in his sleep on Wednesday 1st February and they thanked everyone for their support. That was all. The shop was open but I did not enter. What could I say to the bereaved parents? But perhaps I shall slip this note to them, so that they may know the joy their son gave a lonely stranger, one rainy day.