Lines of Nature By Tracey Sargent
The corners of the market square were delineated by the presence of four different, yet equally important stores. A bakery, newsagent, fruit shop, and delicatessen.
They sat within the right angle of each corner, facing off against each other in a retail tug-of-war for customers. The cafe where I worked was located just two doors down from the bakery, a nice location from which to lure the passing shopper.
Here amongst the bricks, stairs, windows and doors - this is where life really happened. It provided the perfect setting for one of old Jack’s favourite pastimes - people watching. I could see him out there now, sitting under the shade of an awning with eyes half closed. While it often looked as if he was sleeping, he was really quite alert - soaking up all the hustle and bustle of the town. Like a lizard who holds itself perfectly still at the approach of a predator, those passing by paid old Jack no attention; he blended in so seamlessly. Perhaps it was because his clothes and the squashed brown hat which sat upon his head were as old-fashioned as the facade of the building he sat in front of. He had found the perfect camouflage.
Every Saturday he appeared there. I knew, because I worked at the cafe six days a week, and it was only on the Saturday that I’d see him. He’d stroll over to his spot just after lunch and pass the remaining hours until sunset, in comfortably reclined fashion. When he walked past the cafe in the evening, he’d always tip his hat to me like an old-fashioned cowboy. I’d stop sweeping the verandah for a moment and watch him leave. ‘Evening ma'am’, he’d say and I’d smile.
This had been the ritual for about six months, until one Saturday my curiousity got the better of me. I waited until I saw Jack appear, before I took my lunch break and wandered across the square.
‘Hi Jack’, I said.
‘Ma’am’, he said.
‘I was just wondering ... I see you here every Saturday, but where do you go every other afternoon?’
With a smile he adjusted his hat, like he’d been waiting for me to ask him that very question. ‘Out there’, he said pointing to the distant line of trees just visible over the peak of buildings, ‘beyond the square’.
‘So you come here to soak up some life before you head back to the quiet of nature?’
‘No ma’am. I come here to remember true beauty’, he said.
‘True beauty? You mean you’re a student of architecture? Or are you an old romantic with a special woman in mind?’
‘Nope. Neither could be truly said of me ... I come here to remember the world can be an ugly built-up place, filled with structure, tough rules, and hard edges. Out there amongst the trees, well that is where true beauty lies. There’s no such thing as a straight line in nature’.
‘Hmmm, and here I was thinking you enjoyed the city Jack ... Well, I’d better let you get back to it’, I said.
‘Much obliged ma’am’, he said as he let his hat fall back over his eyes and he relaxed back into his chair. Returning to work for the remainder of my shift, I kept thinking about what Jack had said. I’d spent most of my life in this town, and rarely ventured elsewhere.
Before too long the sun had pulled this particular day to a close, and Jack was walking by with his usual, ‘evening ma’am’. After I locked the cafe door behind me half-an-hour later, I suddenly knew just what I wanted ... actually no, what I needed to do. At the bottom of the cafe stairs instead of turning right towards home and my front door, I turned left and headed for the trees.