The beach lay before him as it always did. Long, and seemingly endless, the sand golden and warm to his toes, but he felt no warmth. The sun dazzled on the ocean, and the waves crashed invitingly on the shore. Small children giggled as they ran in and out of the waves, allowing the ocean to chase them to shore. Dogs barked excitedly as the surf sparkled and sizzled, white, and clean. Lovers old and young, established and new, walked slowly along the same route as himself, wrapped in each other’s arms, holding hands, walking separately, but of still one accord, giving space, but being near.
He didn’t see any of the complexity of morning beach life, he didn’t need to, it had always been there, and probably always would be. It had been the same when he had walked the same route with another. He stopped for a moment, lifting his head he looked towards the distance, as far along the beach as he was able, as if was searching for something, someone. A smile appeared on his face, but it held no warmth, and soon dissolved, leaving him with his usual haunted lost signature. It was the face that was now natural to him, and it was the face that few ventured to change. It was the face that said ‘no trespassers’, ‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t intrude’, ‘keep your distance’, and any other ‘keep out’ sign that you could think of. This was a man who needed no one, and seriously didn’t want anyone.
This was a man alone.
He continued with his walk.
To anyone passing by it would seem as if he was looking for something, a shell, a pebble, missing change even, but look closer and you would notice that his eyes were closed. He knew this beach, this daily route, by heart. He had walked it every morning rain or shine, summer or winter, it was a ritual, and it was a ritual of the self-condemned.
“Get back here.”
A golden blur burst into his world, unwanted, unwarranted, but it was there. A wild, boisterous golden retriever nearly knocked him over as it danced around him, dancing around itself, barking, turning on its tail.
He stopped and squatted down so that he was at the same height as the excitable dog. He held his hand out, palm up, so as not to alarm the dog. His hand was quickly covered in a warm wet tongue, but he didn’t pull back, just smiled at the dog. “Hello there. What’s got you so excited then?” He patted the dogs head and then ruffled it behind the ears. The dog in its excitement, threw its paws into his lap covering him with wet sand. He laughed and the dog ran off towards the rolling surf. He stood back up and kept the smile as long as he could. It was good to have that warm in him, it made a good change.
“I am sorry, he doesn’t mean any harm. He is just a little over enthusiastic at times.”
He was taken out of his reverie, watching the dog barking and cavorting in the surf. He turned and looked towards the voice.