The umbrella guy. I remember the first day I saw him. Upsetting and strange, sure. But, back then, I couldn’t know how much his figure would come to haunt my thoughts.
‘Who’s that guy?’ I’d asked, pointing outside the window.
Sarah gave me a knowing look. A sad look.
‘We call him the umbrella guy.’
I was supposed to be clearing plates but Sarah started bustling around me, clattering, as she started to clear them instead.
‘He’s been waiting for hours…but he hasn’t got on a bus.’ I said. ‘Why?’
It was my first day at the cafe. I’d noticed him by the bus stop with his duck covered umbrella. He’d been there for hours. The buses kept coming but he just kept waving them on. It was getting late and cold. I was worried. He was shivering. I looked to Sarah, still waiting for an answer, she looked uncomfortable. The cafe was empty but her voice was hushed now.
‘He’s waiting for his dad. But he died a while ago. He doesn’t understand…if you get what I mean.’ Sarah said. ‘It’s sad. He stands there most days. 3pm exactly. Whatever the weather, he’s there.’
We stared outside together. The rain poured down the window. It was pouring down his oversized green jacket. His dad’s jacket? It made me choke. Sarah put a hand on my shoulder.
‘Leave him be. He’s independent enough. Believe me I’ve tried to help…he won’t budge.’ She said. ‘C’mon, love. Let’s finish up.’
After I’d finished up I went to the bus stop for my ride home. The umbrella guy was still there. Shivering. He turned to me and gave me a childlike smile. He looked middle-aged but his expression looked much younger. Innocent. I smiled back.
‘Are you okay?’ I asked. ‘It’s very cold.’
‘I got my umbrella.’ He grinned. ‘I’m wait for the last bus.’
I felt a shiver. It felt very cold. I smiled, the rain was disguising the water in my eyes. I turned away. Didn’t want to ask anything more.
‘If my dad isn’t on last bus. I go home. He wouldn’t forget me. Maybe I’m confuse.’
He looked confused. A slight sadness passed over his face. Like he might have been forgotten. It pained me.
‘I’m sure he’ll see you soon.’ I said.
I’m sure he’ll see you soon. At the time I felt like slapping myself. Why would I lie? I couldn’t bear to tell him the truth but was lying any better?
I looked over at him now. He was smiling again. Grinning through the shivers violently running through his body. It felt cruel to leave him standing there all day but there was hope in his eyes. I didn’t say another word. Hopped onto the last bus without a word—just a wave. Watched as his figure paused for a moment before slumping away from the bus stop.
I cried that first day. But I would go on to watch this so many times it would gradually stop hurting as much. At least, as much. I didn’t cry for a long time. But, I did cry twice. The second time was when I saw him for the last time.
I worked at the cafe for quite a while, it was never too busy and although Sarah was stern, she was mostly kind. I found myself waiting at the bus stop with the umbrella guy several days a week. We just smiled at each other. Sometimes he’d mention his dad. But I stood too far away to talk, too far away to listen. I felt bad but I felt like telling him the truth would be cruel and lying to him was wrong too. Many times I imagined telling him his dad wasn’t going to come, he had passed away. Would I use the words ‘passed away’? It seemed lighter than ‘he’s dead’ but both would be painful. Both meant the same thing. He’s gone and never coming to meet you. I could imagine him slumping to the floor and melding with the puddles. Screaming like a lost child.
He was a lost child. I imagined his dad was his main support. Why else would he keep coming here? Who else was in his life? He’d waited here enough times that he remembered where his dad would always be waiting for him. I imagined he would run at his dad like a child and swamp him with love. His dad would take his duck umbrella, gently pull it down for him and pat him gently onto the bus. His dad probably gave him the umbrella. I was curious to ask but I didn’t want the answer.
I kept asking myself so many questions.
Was it right that he kept waiting for his dad who would never come?
Was I right to allow him to keep on hoping?
Or, should I try to tell him the truth?
I felt a deep sadness for him at first but I began to notice his smiling. How much he was always bursting with hope and anticipation when he first arrived at the bus stop. Then I wondered if he was better in his hopelessly hopeful loop.
But, still, I couldn’t help asking myself these questions whenever I was waiting with him. Should I feel guilty? I waited with him in the cold and through both the sun and rain. It was always sadder in the rain. I couldn’t say anything to him. I didn’t know what to do either. We always just smiled at each other.
I ended up leaving the job. I remember on my last day I’d said bye to him and wished him well. But I kept wondering what this meant about myself. Was I cruel or selfish?
I understood it more last year when my mum’s dementia worsened and she kept asking for my dad. I couldn’t say it. It wasn’t worth her suffering the pain of grief again. Even if only for a short while. Even if she would just forget again. I wouldn’t say it. I told white lies but this time I forgave myself for them. I liked watching her worry turn into a smile, a little comfort.
I didn’t tell the truth.
One day, after her death, I passed by that bus stop and I saw the umbrella guy. He was still waiting. It was a cold and windy day. I didn’t feel so much pity now. I cried for the second time. The grief was overwhelming.
Now, I really understood. I would give anything to believe my mum and dad could be coming back. That I would see them smiling on the bus and I could smother them with a hug. I would wait in the rain all day long. The umbrella guy was just like me but he was standing outside in the rain. Inside, I was just like him, waiting, imagining seeing them again, imagining them at home. Except, unlike him, I knew they would never be coming.
I haven’t seen him since then. I’ve never returned to that place. Sometimes, when it’s a rainy day, my thoughts are haunted by his figure. I feel sadness. I feel grief. I feel cold and alone. But I remind myself that, thankfully, it doesn’t rain forever. And, it doesn’t—it always passes.
Now and again, on sunny days, I think of the umbrella guy and I smile. I imagine him hugging his umbrella to his chest with a childlike smile. Then, just like me, I imagine him climbing on the bus with someone new, throwing his umbrella to the ground and leaving the rain behind.