Corporal Joe Banjo Hemingway, the cripple, bobbled down the road with a crutch under each arm. A banjo hung across his back. The war happened many years ago but it left its brutal legacy: a mine claimed his left leg.
As he passed the busy garage, in Warwick, Joe took in the empty monkey cage, the Hilly-Billy cabin and the jungle enclosure with all the 'wild' animals. The garage, 'Zorba's Flying Circus' certainly lived up to its name. It acted as a magnet for many children, especially those with parents calling in for fuel.
When he reached his destination Joe sat down on a low brick wall and carried on looking down at his leg for a moment. 'Perhaps I'll be lucky with my busking today', he thought. He plucked his banjo strings.
"Harry, just stay where you are," the woman said," and I'll be back with the car in a couple of minutes. Take care of Susan."
Maureen Sanders looked at husband Harry and five year old daughter Susan. Harry stood statue like, holding Susan's hand and a white stick in his other hand. He nodded, so Maureen went off. She was scarcely gone a few minutes when the large sheepdog appeared. Susan eyed it nervously. It was big, very bouncy and black, with a pink tongue and all those sharp teeth.
"Dad, there's a dog," she cried. "It's coming closer. Where's Mum?" She looked around a perfect picture of anxiety, the way her blue eyes rolled and her short gasps.
Harry tried to calm Susan down.
"Don't worry," he said. "Mum will be back soon. It's probably a friendly dog anyway."
"Dad. I'm scared. Dad. Where's Mum?"
But Harry's words didn't seem to calm his daughter. She could hear the dog bark. Deep and throaty. It was getting closer, too close for comfort, in fact.
Susan's hand slipped from his grasp. He heard her shout something. Then she was off. Harry took a few paces forward and shouted to her. He shouted, as always, into the perpetual blackness. His white stick fanning the empty air. His forehead creased .He felt lost and worried.
In desperation he turned his head trying to link any sound with his missing daughter. Sweat sprouted on his face and hands, as he feared for her safety. But his concern seemed in vain; seemed to have come too late: Susan was gone.
Joe heard the dog and watched as it ran. He saw it run towards the man with the white stick and the small child he held. As the dog approached the couple, Joe saw the little girl break free and run his way. The dog went off somewhere but the child headed across to where he sat. Joe's banjo lay on the ground as he got to his feet.
The girl stopped in shock a few feet away from him as she saw his missing leg. It was the first time she'd seen a man with such an injury. Joe noticed the band aide on her knee and smiled to himself. Now this was a tomboy. She caught his eye and he smiled.
"Does it hurt," she said looking at his missing leg.
"Sometimes," he said." Sometimes it does. Best shout for your Dad 'cause he's looking for you."
Susan turned and shouted. The dog seemed to have disappeared. Now she felt safe enough to run and catch her Dad's arm. Harry smiled with relief and caught her hand again. He was happy now, happy to have found her, happy to follow her to where Joe sat. The banjo still lay on the ground.
Now Susan saw the cripple was down on his knees finishing off a drawing in chalk on the pavement. There was red dust on his fingers from the chalk stick; he brushed the dust off his fingers. Susan heard the chink, metal on concrete, as a sympathetic art lover dropped a coin onto the drawing of a Chinese Dragon.
Harry sat down on the wall still holding his daughter's hand. His forehead still glistened with sweat but he was looking more relieved because of finding Susan.
Joe looked at the little girl and took out a sheet of white paper. He started drawing with a piece of charcoal. Susan looked at him, out of curiosity, as he continued with his sketching.
Suddenly a car pulled up at the kerbside. Susan recognised her Mum at the wheel.
Maureen got out and came to help them get in the car. Susan watched as her Mum opened her purse to drop a handful of coins onto the Dragon drawing. The coin collection was growing.
"Thanks for keeping an eye on these two," Maureen Saunders said, with a smile.
Joe smiled back at the kind woman.
"No trouble," Joe Banjo said, "I think your little girl has brought me luck today." His eyes went to the coins on the pavement.
"What Susan? But she's such a handful."
"Maybe," Joe agreed. "Maybe she's a tomboy. But that's not how I sketched her. Please keep it. Consider it a present, from me to you."
Joe smiled and handed his drawing to Susan's mother.
The woman took it and studied the portrait sketch of her young daughter done in charcoal. She took in the fine lines, the use of perspective and the shading, the different way the light fell across the face of the little girl.
It was a great drawing. She smiled as she noticed something else about the drawing. Susan's mother opened up her purse and took out a note. She passed it to Joe.
"You've done a good job with this sketch," she said. "In fact I'm going to frame it for the rest of the family to see. My sister will go crazy when she spots this. Pity Harry can't see this though.
"Mind you, the way you've drawn Susan, even I didn't recognise her at first, not with those new angel wings you've given her."
Cleveland W. Gibson2005
author of Moondust