3. Denial

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"No, ma'am

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"No, ma'am. Not me." A slight shake of the head, his gaze falling to the pavement.  "You're mistaken. I beg your pardon." 

It was him. 

I waited, half-expecting him to suddenly look back at me from under his lashes and smile in the way that had touched me so strongly years ago. But he only shook his head slightly again and began to move around me.  

"James, please."

He stepped off the pavement onto the street, making for the diagonal corner. 

"Where are you going? Don't go pretending you've never seen me before!" 

He hesitated slightly, as if weighing up his options, but then walked on with more determination. 

"James! Why won't you speak to me? Tell me!"

I knew perfectly well why not. Or, at least I could guess.  The same reason why so many former Tommies left their homes, families, never to return.

Embarrassment. Shame at the limbs they'd left behind in the Flanders' mud or the injuries they'd brought home with them that would never heal.

Especially the injuries invisible to the eye.

I looked to where James' right leg should have been, the weight now supported by a crutch. He'd had both his legs when I knew him. Long, slender legs that had stretched on for decades down into the hilly range of sheets crumpled at the end of my bed. I thanked God he hadn't lost both of them.  

"Where are you sleeping now? Eating?" I said, following on his heels.

No answer. We were on Monmouth Street, on the edge of the slum that was Seven Dials. The coal-smoke laden air was thicker here than on Charing Cross Road, and there were more horse-drawn carts trotting past than automobiles. 

I grasped around for something to say. 

Perhaps if it had concerned one of the other recouping men who had been at Cloud Hill I could have accepted his decision, letting him hobble away and disappear into the maze of London's endless streets. But not James. Not one that I'd been so close to. He could walk away, but I wasn't going to stand there like a helpless child and watch him go.

"Were you issued a ration card? Do you still have it?" 

No answer. Just his back as he tried to put more distance between us.

A few questioning glances were thrown our way, but there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about a fashionable woman in hat, heels and fur wrap badgering a ragged Tommy as he staggered down the road. Even here, people would have been far more likely to come to my aid than his. 

"Is there a church hand-out you attend?" 

Nothing.  I hadn't expected him to greet me with open arms, but his silence was now severely starting to grate my nerves. 

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