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U3A Writing: A Pair Of Boots

...Why did we not intervene? In that quiet, peaceful square where we had been so at ease there was now a feeling of a strange inadequacy, of things not being right with the world. lt was as though a cloud had descended to destroy what had previously seemed a perfect day?...

Betty Kay recalls an astonishing incident witnessed in a beautiful tree-lined square in a Spanish town.

I was on holiday in the Algarve with my sister and brother-in-law and on this day we had travelled by train from the coastal village where we were staying to a nearby town, noted for its interesting history and architecture. Soon after our arrival we had discovered a fascinating market which we had enjoyed exploring, and now, after climbing a hill from the town centre, we were relaxing in a beautiful tree-lined square, sitting on one of the seats placed at intervals round the central garden, which was gloriously spread with a carpet of many coloured flowers.

On the opposite side of the square to where we were sitting was a row of stately houses with flowers hanging in baskets from their balconies. On the other three sides were bushes and tall trees with spreading branches An iron railing surrounded the square, and this had the effect of isolating this tranquil spot from what lay beyond.

We felt at peace with the world. The sun shone through the branches of the trees, lit up colours in the flowerbeds and glinted on the white stuccoed walls of the houses. We sat silent, not wanting to disturb the peace and quiet that surrounded us. Such moments have to be savoured and stored in the mind for future enjoyment.

I do not recall how many blissful moments we enjoyed before we became aware of the figure emerging from the shadows where the road led up from the town by the side of the houses A figure all in black, like something from a Dickens novel, appeared and began to approach us, across the top of the square and then along the side of the square towards where we were sitting. A tramp tall and thin, wearing dark ill fitting clothes. He seemed to me almost like an apparition.

He led by his side a mangy looking dog held by a string in one hand. In the other he carried what must have been a supermarket carrier bag, but in my mind’s eye I see it as a dark brown paper bag such as we used to carry at one time.

He came up close to us and stretched out a grimy claw of a hand, at which we recoiled almost with horror. Then my brother-in-law shood him away. Without a word the tramp went on his way, and we watched him as he walked to the opposite end of the row of seats on the side where we were sitting.

He proceeded to take off his coat, which he rolled up to make a cushion. He tied his dog to the railing behind the seat, removed his hat and then lay down full length on the seat and placed the carrier bag on the ground beside him. He held his hat on his chest and fell asleep.

We looked at each other, but before we had time to make any comment our gaze led us once again to the shadows. Yet another tramp had appeared as if from nowhere. This one even more tall and gaunt than the first.

He also walked towards us but did not stop to beg. Perhaps he had observed our rebuff of his counterpart. He proceeded to where the other tramp was lying, by this time fast asleep. For a moment or two he watched him, then waved his hand over his face, I thought perhaps to wake him up.

But this was not the reason, for with a wary eye on the dog, which seemed too lethargic to bark, he walked to the other end of the seat where the sleeper’s feet stuck out and proceeded to remove his boots, carefully untying the laces before easing them off. He slung them round his neck and turned to go. Then as an afterthought he picked up the carrier bag and walked off without a backward glance,

During the whole of this time I do not recall that we, the spectators of this bizarre scene, spoke a single word, but now we expressed astonishment. Was there no honour among tramps? To relieve a fellow vagrant of his boots seemed bad enough but to take all his worldly possessions as well! Surely this was beyond the pale.

Why did we not intervene? In that quiet, peadeful square where we had been so at ease there was now a feeling of a strange inadequacy, of things not being right with the world. lt was as though a cloud had descended to destroy what had previously seemed a perfect day.

We got up to go. As we passed the still sleepimg tramp, we paused. The dog started up and gave a faint growl. My brother-in-law put his hand in his pocket and dropped some coins into the man's hat. Then we went on our way.

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