‘The nights are really drawing in now, aren’t they?’
‘Nip in the air.’
‘That time of year.’
The old man, who had been stalking me across the desolate golf course with a huge Great Dane, fell silent as he looked out over the estuary.
‘Got to take as much in while we can.’
It was the point when idle chatter transgressed briefly into something else – something that had a whiff of meaning about it. Surely this was not the time and place for meaning? How very un-British of you to accost a stranger in such a fashion, sir. And on a public footpath. I deflected this attempt at talking about stuff that matters with more politeness.
‘I suppose we have.’
I was haunted for days by the feeling that I might well have thrown away an opportunity for enlightenment of an exclusive nature. I cursed myself for being a hypocrite, and for increasing that dying man’s sense of loneliness and alienation. How could I extol the virtues of compassion in my work if I couldn’t manage this small feat of listening and talking to this man for a few more minutes?
I shared my concerns with a close friend on whom I can always rely to be very direct in times of moral or existential crisis. Upon learning that the incident took place at dusk on the Wirral Way, he assuaged all my worries with five words:
‘Probably a flasher anyway, dude.’
And the Earth kept on turning.