No, that’s not what I’m saying

There’s an old man who comes into the shop from time to time – he buys gardening books. Once, last month, when I was glum, and it was cold, and the sky had its eyes closed, he came in. He found a gardening book so big that the cover had a handle. He picked it up and carried it round, he kept saying, ‘Look at this!’

He bought it.

He carried it around the shop a few more times. ‘Look at this, this is great! Good on you for having it. Good on you for having this place.’ His face is a smile, it stretches, every kindly muscle of it, into a single malt smile.

Then he saw the bookmarks and went silent. ‘Look at these.’

‘Look at this.’ He handled a little silver dragon, screwing up his eyes to see it properly. His hands are huge, gardening hands, at rest but alive as if still holding the secateurs. ‘Look at this. This is marvellous. It’s a little dragon. Good on you.’ His nails are dark, holding soil from the beans he probably checked this morning.

When he first visited the shop, he wanted a book of jokes, not rude ones, just quick ones, for entertaining the grandkids. ‘They like quick jokes these days.’ When he spoke of his grandchildren, his eyes moistened and an orchard grew there.

Did they know? Those grandkids? If they don’t, in time they will. When he’s not there, and a small corner of warmth, tomatoes, the washing pegged carefully, the careful attention to what matters – is gone.

When he left, I followed him out. I don’t know why. No, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say is that the sky had opened its eyes and was looking right at him.