In the distance, shrouded in the fading light of the second city, a man walks down the steps behind the Pavilions Shopping Centre. A beige t-shirt with dark hoops clings to his muscular frame as he shouts hello to someone - who turns and looks back bemused by this gesture.
It’s cold, and he seems happy, as I pull my hood up and adjust my weight onto my other leg whilst repositioning the small of my back against the cold metal railing again - as all the time he walks closer. Eventually he's opposite me and just at the very point that he is I see that he notices a young girl at the front of the queue on his right hand side who is leaning against the bus shelter in front of me.
He says hello to her straight away.
Turning, nervously, she smiles and nods her head at him and then turns away again. She’s small, thirteen or fourteen at the most, waif-like; and fragile. I'm not alone in noticing his interest in her. Eyes glance up and then down as people go back to their own worlds again, with a barely visible ‘fuck it’ shrug of their shoulders that the city makes you do sometimes.
But I can tell that she doesn't know him, as he continues to stare at her, whilst playing it cool as if he isn’t. His hands clasped, slowly rubbing together like a bad actor would do if this was a film and he was the villain. Maybe he’s just cold? His t-shirt no defence to the chill of the night as he hops from one foot to the other his dance the product of poor choices made in the warmth of the day.
This is obviously a man without foresight and yet he appears to have a plan I think to myself.
In front of him, three feet away, under the daylight bulb of an artificial light; the young girl’s long brown bushy hair bursts from a black beanie, falling down the sides of her stonewashed denim jacket and for a moment it looks likes she's trying to bury herself deep inside the shelter.
What are you supposed to do at times like this? Perhaps you're meant to do something, at least, right, instead of just watch and observe? Isn't that what a good person would do? But what am I meant to say – and who to? Say something to him?
The number 16 bus turns a corner, framed by Selfridges behind it as it does, and she emerges from the light and into the dark to greet it and just as she raises an arm he jumps in front of her, just glancing her shoulder, slightly, as he throws out his own arm to flag down the bus - which was already stopping.
She tenses, a little, I think, and stays still, as people find their way off the bus whilst others try to find their way on, around her, as she waits her turn. I'm hoping that she doesn't go upstairs as she finds a seat close to the bus driver, three or four rows behind - I'm relieved - and just then the man sits down next to her and I watch her face just looking ahead, never turning - and his, next to her, as the bus pulls away from the shelter and my part in their story ends. I hope forever.
But what did I see here - .really - asked the man seeking absolution? Was this just the jaded observations of a cynical man? Putting two and two together and coming up with a front page headline?
I am, of course, a product of the city a veteran of this urban space where within a glance I've seen the lives of others framed by love, pain and death - and gone about my business just the same.
In my work I've photographed people, during one brief time in a trauma unit, in pain, in despair, bloodied, broken and dying – dead - framing it all within my viewfinder. There and somehow detached from it all behind my camera - yet marked by it all the same.
We're all observers though, in the city, all looking out at the world around us. Cold detached bystanders to the lives of others; witnesses with testimonies which most of us will never share - but witnesses nonetheless.
All of us hiding behind the veil of self preservation - never wanting to get involved; seeing and yet not seeing but always being marked by our observations all the same as we look out at the world around us in the fading light of the second city.