by David Swann
I found him fumbling along the corridor in the last café before the Scar. He was an Asian guy in baggy shorts and clomping boots. Boisterous. Middle-aged. What you might call a character.
After I’d helped him into the loo, we stood side-by-side at the urinal, him staring at the cistern through sunglasses that bulged like goggles.
“Come here often?” he asked, and laughed crazily, revealing perfectly blackened teeth.
I said yes, I did come often. For the views and the air. For the plunging falls at the valley-head.
“Me,” he said, shaking his head, “I’ve lived in limestone country for 45 years, and this is my first time at the Scar.”
It was the roaming, he said. The roaming was to blame. He’d crossed the planet a dozen times, always finding space on container ships.
I wasn’t to get him wrong, though. For all the wonders he’d seen, the ships were controlled by banks, and sometimes a vessel could be landlocked in harbours for months. Years.
“Picture it,” he said: “A sailor who can’t go anywhere …”
Plus, the insects. On some ships, cockroaches crawled in your eyes, in your mouth …
He mimed it: zip. Shut.
“Bed-bugs, too! Bed-bugs with fangs!”
Last time, he’d burned every infested item before leaving the South Seas. They were only clothes, after all. Only things.
But he’d returned to an empty house.
“I went through them four little rooms like I were checking a ship. I were calling my kids’ names,” he said. “I were telling my wife I’d come back.”
The religious types didn’t want to know. And his wider family didn’t understand. “How could they,” he said, “when I didn’t either?”
So he’d lived on soup kitchens and charities until the roaming got him again.
His next voyage, that was a belter. The container skipper let him sleep on deck — and, man alive, the things he’d seen: whales the size of buses. Stars you could reach out and grab.
I’d finished at the urinal, but he was still gushing away. While I waited to lead him out, I studied the damage to his legs. The bruises and swellings.
Diabetes, I guessed: that’s what was killing him.
He seemed to sense my gaze. “Me,” he said, “I won’t see 50, mate. Two years, they’ve given my eyes. Two for the eyes, and five for the rest …”
That laugh again. Then quieter.
“But look,” he said: “Pissing for England. There’s life in the boy yet, eh?” He was smiling at his bright, impressive stream. “When you’re back in that café, tell your friends never to take any kind of waterfall for granted. Follow me?”
“Tell them that,” he said. “And say you heard it from a fella who knew what he was on about.”
He was done at last, and fumbling with his flies.
I led him down the passage, as far as the gate across the road. His laughs were still echoing off the trees long after he’d gone, up the path to the Scar.
David Swann once made a living reporting on Accrington Stanley’s football matches for the local rag. Since then, he has worked on newspapers and magazines, and in jails, warehouses and nightclubs. He is now a Senior Lecturer in English & Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. His collection, The Privilege of Rain (Waterloo Press, 2010), based on his experiences as a writer-in-residence in a prison, was shortlisted for the 2011 Ted Hughes Award. His stories and poems have won many awards, including eight successes at the Bridport prize and two in the National Poetry Competition. Dave’s flash fiction collection, Stronger Faster Shorter (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press), was published in 2015. A new book of poems, Gratitude on the Coast of Death (Waterloo Press), will follow in 2017. He divides his time between Brighton and Hove.