I.P. by F.C. Malby
The cardboard shielded his body from the shock of the pavement beneath his thighs. His trousers alone could not force out the early morning frost. Joe could see his breath disappearing into the daylight with the traffic and the bustle of people, all with places to reach, jobs to begin; lives filled with family, and co-workers. He filled his life with these once. Now it was full of strangers in the street, bodies sleeping on old bits of packaging. Discarded.
‘Joe,’ she said as she reached him, ‘can I get you a coffee?’
‘I’ve had one. Thanks.’
She leaned in towards him – her hair curled in bronze spirals, her suit pressed and the brightest of reds – and quietly placed some notes into the hat. Small coins usually clinked as they landed but she gave him notes.
It wasn’t the fresh pressed suits, or the bronzed locks, or the fact that she gave him money that made an impression. She made eye contact. She always offered him coffee. He said no.
As she turned to open the glass panelled door, her bracelet dropped onto the cardboard beneath him, nestling into the crinkled edges like a baby bird sheltering from a storm. He lifted it up but she was gone. In the next few moments the door became jammed open with the force of large numbers of suits either pushing in to the shop for a hot shot of caffeine, or trying to escape with an un-spilled cup. Fish swimming upstream.
Joe looked down at the bracelet, now shimmering in his hand. The initials, I.P., caught the light: Isabel Parker. He remembered his mother’s bracelet because his father had tucked it away into a handkerchief, deep into the recesses of his bedside drawer, and he remembered the look on his mother’s face when he gave it to her, wrapped in red ribbon neatly circling a black box with the silver embossed swirls of a jeweller’s finest.
Isabel Parker didn’t recognise him each morning when she leaned in to give him some notes, and why would she? Separated from each other when they lost their parents, Joe remembers the journey to his new home with the sharpness of an icy dawn.
‘It’s for the best,’ a stranger in a suit had told him. ‘You’ll see your sister when you’re settled.’
He didn’t, not until the day when she first walked into the coffee shop. He had recognised her immediately but he couldn’t share his identity out of shame. Their lives had spiralled in different directions and time had passed. Seeing her each morning was enough.
She emerged from the commotion holding a gingerbread man and a shot of espresso. He handed her the bracelet. Leaning down towards him, she clasped his hand, smiled, then turned away and vanished into the crowds.