Through a small crack in the wall, he watched them; ever-present, never moving.
He had watched them seek shelter when the thunder crashed and the rain fell. He had watched them seek shade when the sun shone and the temperature rose. And, when they sought sleep under an icy blue moon, he had still watched them.
Although time had ravaged the broken shell of the old building, there was still enough cracked wall and broken beam to provide shelter and sanctuary. There were enough small animals to hunt for food and the stream nearby offered a never-ending supply of fresh water. He could empathize with their situation, but he still sympathized with them – they were never meant to remain here for so long.
Whilst he had kept his distance from the group, he was not without knowing. The wind had been his messenger, often bringing words to his ears, or smells to his nose; snippets of conversation snatched over meager campfire cooking. As time wore on, he noticed words of anger, frustration and panic had settled amongst the group when there should have been words of joy, hope and calm.
He blamed himself for this. He was responsible, he knew that now. He couldn’t keep them here any longer and realized that it was time to make his move.
He was almost at the campfire when a twig snapped under his weight which caused the group to turn towards him. In an instant, three pairs of eyes caught him in their gaze, holding him in their sharp stares. For a time, no-one spoke, no-one moved. Then, as the seconds wore on, a sense of familiarity and recognition began to drape around them all.
There came a voice from the far side of the dancing flames. “We thought you’d left us”.
“I could never do that”, replied the stranger. “You’re all under my skin. I am you and you are me.”
“Then why have we spent so long here, just waiting?” asked another voice.
The stranger stood uneasy. “I have a terrible regret in allowing this to have occurred. But you have remained strong and your patience is a credit to you all. May I sit with you?”
One of the group gestured toward a clear spot around the fire.
The stranger smiled and joined them. “Of course, we can discuss why you’ve waited so long in this place. That is why I’m back.”
The stranger took a boiling pot from the fire and began to pour himself a drink, “But, more importantly, we can discuss where you are going next…”