He sits at a corner table stirring his Americano. A big guy with broad shoulders, large hands engulfing his cup. The cafe is busy and the chair opposite vacant, but no one asks to sit with him.
His face has a past: possibly violent; definitely damaging. A line of gristle scars one side, running from above his eye and pulling the eyelid down in a kind of leer. His skin is pitted. When he does glance up from beneath overhanging brows, the words, “F*** off” don’t need to be said.
So he stirs his coffee in glowering isolation, a thick hairy wrist emerging from an equally thick hairy jumper, and mothers pull their children clear.
He’s glad of it. If no bugger sits with him then he won’t have to talk to them. And they won’t ask why he isn’t working like a man his age should be. Then he won’t have to tell them that he’s too ill to work, and they won’t ask what’s wrong with him and he won’t have that feeling of hands grasping his guts and screwing them into knots.
Because he doesn’t want to give them the answer – the answer they won’t believe, anyway, because, hey, he looks fine. If he’s healthy enough to go for a coffee, he’s healthy enough to work, right? Plus everyone knows mental illness is a crock of shit. I mean, he hardly looks like the target of bullying, so he can’t be. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
And that’s the trouble: he is ashamed of himself.
Which is why it’s taken three weeks to bring himself to leave the house and sit here among normal, happy people. His heart hammering and his hands shaking, but he’s here.
So long as no one comes up to him, he’ll be fine.
He can do this.
This was an exercise taking the old adage ‘write what you know,’ and mixing it up a little. The internal character here is, basically, myself. But I’ve made the exterior as different from me as I could – a big, tough bloke – to see what the effect would be. And from the comments I’ve received, there has been a great deal of empathy for this guy – more so than for my female characters. Making me wonder whether even fictional males are taken more seriously than females… I hope I’m wrong.