I once knew of a man.

I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know of his family or friends.

I didn’t know where he lived or even if he had a home. I didn’t know of his employment or where he went during the day. I only knew that for a short time each night, this man would appear out of the darkness, alone and completely unaware of anything around him.

My friends and I used to joke about him. We always used to come up with strange and mysterious stories about where he came from and where he went. We were about ten and we’d all sit up in the attic around a candle, snuggled up in our sleeping bags, listening to each other’s stories about this cryptic man. It scared us silly half the time!

We didn’t know his name so we decided to give him the only name we thought suitable for a man like that.

We named him Duke.

It was me who thought of the name. I had always thought there was a lot of enigma and secretiveness surrounding it.


It sent shivers up my spine just thinking about it.

My opinion of Duke changed when I was alone in the house. When I was with my friends he would be a terrifying ghoul, but when I was alone with my thoughts, I would sit and watch him from my room, a million ideas buzzing through my head.

Duke appeared every night at around nine. He emerged out of the darkness that the narrow ginnel held him in, and he stood for a moment with the dim yellow light shining down on him from the street lamp. He would tip his flat cap up with his index finger, and he would look up at the sky; he always looked at it longer when it was a starry night. He would straighten out his cap, leaving his grey hair poking out at the back. He’d swap the big book he always carried in his right hand to the crook of his left arm and he would push his glasses up his nose slightly, even though they did slide down again a couple of seconds later. I always thought that it was his oval glasses that gave him his character. They reminded me of something that a poet would wear. Behind his glasses were his dark eyes. I often wondered to myself what was behind those eyes, what thoughts were running through his head, what dark secrets he kept locked away inside, what he saw in the darkness that fascinated him so much.

He wore a dark scarf around his neck that dangled to about knee length on one side and hip length on the other. His long black overcoat was never buttoned, not even on the coldest nights in winter. I suppose he must have been warm enough though because he never really looked cold.

He only came out in winter.

I thought he was nocturnal or something because he only ever came out when it was exceptionally dark at night and when the streets were as silent as a graveyard. He was never around in the summer when the days seemed to stretch on forever and the nights stayed light until about eleven.

No, he never came out in summer.

Duke would shuffle along the pavement and stop directly under the streetlamp which first introduced him to the light. He’d take out his pocket watch from his grubby black pants which stopped about two inches above his ankles, showing his black boots which had a hole in the left toe. After being happy with the time he would lift his head as if to smell the air and then he’d move across the street in his shuffling movement, stepping over an icey puddle. He slowly bent his knees and sat down on the bench opposite my house, as he did every night.

I would often sit at my window and watch Duke come out from the darkness of the ginnel into the streetlight and across to the bench. Each time I wondered to myself where he came from and where he went. If I’d have had the courage I would have gone over there and talked to him, although I doubt that would ever have gotten me anywhere close to understanding him.

Duke was living in a mysterious world of his own and I didn’t want to disturb the peacefulness that seemed to surround him each night.

He’s sit there for about five minutes with a calm and relaxed look on his face. He would look carefully at his surroundings and then put his large book down on the bench next to him. He’d take out his pocket watch again and consider the time. This act convinced me that he had his nights scheduled out. He placed his watch back in his pocket, picked up his book and opened it to the next blank page. From his coat pocket he would pick out the pen or pencil that most took his fancy that night and he began drawing or writing in his book. His eyes were so intense, looking straight ahead at whatever it was that took his interest that night. His lips never parted. His eyebrows remained in a fixed frown while he concentrated on his work.

My friends always thought he was an artist but I reasoned that he was a poet. He seemed that kind of solitary person who finds little joy in anything but writing his poems. I thought he saw things in the darkness that inspired him to write. I thought there was a lot of mystery in what he did and how nothing in the world seemed to matter to him.

After an hour or so of writing he would finish his work and close the book. He’d carry it in the crook of his left arm and after a few minutes of plodding back across the world, he would disappear back into the night where he seemed most suited.

On several occasions I’ve found myself sitting on that bench opposite out house and I try to see what he would see, but I think his mind was far more complex for me to ever understand. When I sat there I found myself thinking about nothing but him.

He doesn’t come to the bench anymore. Maybe he’s dead, or maybe he goes somewhere else because there is nothing left to write about here.

Either way, he’ll stay with me in heart and mind, and I’m sure that one day, I’ll sit alone on that bench, and I’ll be inspired to write about Duke.