The rodent sniffed the air with an intensity and purposefulness that caused it to undergo a fermentative intoxication that left its senses inebriated. The object that triggered this fermentation was a half consumed burger that sat ominously in a yellow polystyrene carton. The countenance on the faces of the small cluster of children willed and urged the small creature to pacify their anticipation by devouring their offering. An intense shriek reverberated around the gathering of youthful exuberance as the rodent appeased their excitability by attacking the food. This exposed two sharp implements that tore at the meat. It rested on two powerful hind legs in the palm of the hand that supported it’s body. Two small clawed legs held the food in position while the rodent expeditiously chewed it’s humble meal. An elated resonance of approval emanated from the children like a shock wave from an exploding bomb. The rodent gave out an alarmed shriek, abandoned it’s meal to the elements while proceeding to seek refuge inside the comfort of it’s owner’s sleeve, its worm like tail being the only discernable part of it’s body viewable to it’s now deflated audience. Louis witnessed this scene from the opposite side of the street. His curiosity urged him towards the band of children whose numbers were now depleted due to the absence of the small apprehensive creature.
As he approached, the last of the infatuated children had been shuffled away by exorable parents. A man sat on steps that led to a prodigious doorway, he exhibited an expansive smile as he tried to coax the creature from his sleeve. Louis’ initial impression of the man was that he resembled a street beggar, however, his clothing was not stained from the ubiquitous appearance that suggested a street life. A bulky and hooded green army jacket draped his body which would have covered his knees when he stood. Army green combat trousers were tucked neatly into a large pair of Doctor Martin boots and a large rucksack, more akin to mountaineering, rested at an angle against the door as if it was stopping the door from toppling. Their was a methodical presence about him that did not typify the stereotypical image of such an existence. A few days of facial growth was exaggerated by a pristine shaven head that shone in the fading light, as if it had been meticulously polished. Louis calculated that the stranger was slightly younger than himself, possibly in his mid twenties.
“Is that a mouse?” Louis asked curiously, introducing himself to the attention of the stranger.
“No, it’s a rat!” he replied in an informative tone while finally retrieving the rat from his clothing.
The rat sniffed the air and seemed pleased that its youthful admirers had gone.
“I have had her for a few years now” he said in a slight cockney accent.
“Has she got a name?”
“Yes, Gizmo, after the rat in that film, Oh what’s it called again, I can never remember”
The rat disappeared under the fabric of the sleeve.
“She keeps me company and never answers back”
“Not your typical female then” Louis remarked ingratiatingly,
They both laughed. It served Louis like a release valve as recent circumstances hadnot afforded him a sense of humour.
“Not that I’m in a position that enables me to meet many girls, the only chance I get is
when they give me money”
Louis looked startled, and then a wave of embarrassment washed over him. I don’t beg for money, we entertain. Well I like to think of it as a form of entertainment. Its Gizmo who does the entertaining ” he retorted in a dignified tone.
“Are you sleeping rough?”
“That depends on your interpretation of rough. I have the sky for my roof, the stars and moon at night for my light and my tent and sleeping bag for shelter and warmth, it feeds my mind and heart while Gizmo feeds both our stomachs with her charm”
“It sounds cozy”
“I wouldn’t live any other way mate, anyway I’v lived like this for years, I like to think of myself as a professional traveler, it’s what I do, it keeps me happy and contented.”
“So what made you come to Edinburgh ?”
“Easy pickings mate, Gizmo just needs to make an appearance and they throw money at us.” He looked at the hamburger, “Oh and these too,” which he offered to Gizmo whose snout had once more appeared from under the sleeve. Louis watched the rat nibble it’s meal, while wondering at the sincerity of the man’s last statement.
The traveler observed Louis perplexed expression and enjoyed the outcome of his sarcasm, before punctuating the silence.
“Naw mate, I’m just pulling your daft Scottish leg. There was no particular reason, I never plan anything I’m not that clinical, it was just the next town, the nearest place.”
Louis smiled, appreciating the man’s humour, even if he found himself the butt of it.
“So where have you been lately?”
“In the last couple of weeks I have been up the west coast, Inverness, then don to
Perth, Stirling, Dunfermline, across the Forth Bridge and now my home for the foreseeable future is your wonderful city.”
“Where will you go next?” Louis asked intrigued.
“York sounds nice at this time of year, always lots of tourists” he replied matter of fact.
Louis found himself attracted to the man’s choice of existence, its sense of freedom, romanticism, spirit of adventure and if he was to be honest withhimself, it’s flavour of escapism. It kindled in him the genesis of an awakening, the fruition of which he was just beginning to realise.
Their meeting was conducive towards his sense of restlessness, and a catalyst to what was to follow. He plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled out a five pound note, offering it to the traveler, who raised his eye brows while contemplating the unexpected gesture.
“Gizzmo’s charm must have wrapped itself around you in a big way”
“Not exactly” Louis replied, “But you could say something else did.”
For several days after their meeting, Louis partook in a detour from his normal route to work, in order to see if the man still sheltered in the doorway. After the first morning’s unsuccessful venture, each morning thereafter, inevitably brought a sense of disappointment and unfulfilled expectation. On his last visit, Louis became aware that he had not even asked the man his name and he wondered if he had indeed ventured to York.