FICTION -The man has a battered metal bowl in his hands. His left eye is opaque but he stares at me with his right eye.
I look down at him and he extends the bowl towards me with both of his hands and holds it there smiling hopefully.
I’m not sure what he wants me to put into it. I have a bilum of groceries from the supermarket over my shoulder and money in my pocket.
He keeps the bowl outstretched and I ask him what he wants but he doesn’t seem to hear me.
I lean closer and notice the crude wooden crutches lying on the concrete behind him.
Then I see his misshapen right leg. His right foot seems to be twisted and pointing the wrong way.
I pull a loaf of bread out of my bilum and drop it on the ground beside him. Then I add a tin of mackerel pike.
His smile flickers and he begins to withdraw the bowl. When it is sitting back on his lap I drop a 20 kina note into it.
He looks at the note and then back at my face. Then he quickly looks around and snatches the note and tucks it into his trouser pocket. He nods his head rapidly up and down and his smile turns into a gummy grin.
He extends his right hand towards the people passing by and the two curious boys on the other side of the road who have been intently watching us. He moves his hand in a circular motion and sadly shakes his head. I look across at the boys and they quickly scamper away.
“Where does he live?” I ask a lady sitting on footpath a few metres away.
She has a cloth spread out in front of her with betel nut, cigarettes, Tang in Coca-Cola bottles and two pairs of second hand men’s shoes arranged neatly in line.
She shrugs and points towards the beach.
“How much are the shoes?” I ask pointing at the nearest pair. She looks at me shrewdly and names a price. I hand over the money and put the shoes in my bilum.
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” she smiles as I begin to walk away.
I walk further along the footpath towards Koki and when I am far enough away I take the shoes out of my bilum and leave them sitting on the low wall separating the path from the beach where someone can find them.
Then I cross the road and begin the long haul up Lawes Road to the house where I am staying.
I put the bilum on the kitchen table and pour cold water from the refrigerator into a glass. When the cook comes in I tell him I forgot the bread and the tin fish for the cat.
He gives me a strange look because he is certain he told me to buy both items. “Where’s Toby?” I ask. He points towards the garden. His son is sitting under one of the mango trees playing with his mobile phone.
I go outside and hand him some money. “If you nip down to Steamies and get some bread and a tin fish for the cat you can keep the change,” I tell him.
He does a quick calculation in his head, grins happily, and heads for the gate. The security guard gives me a puzzled look and I frown and tap my head.
The next day when I go for my morning walk I can’t see the man and his bowl anywhere. A younger lady is selling betel nut on the spot where the lady with the shoes was yesterday.
I glance over the road but there are no curious boys there. When I pass the low wall where I left the shoes there is no sign of them.
I hope whoever found them had the right sized feet. I head up Lawes Road. I have to pack ready to fly out in the afternoon.