He rose stiffly from his seat as the train entered the station. Lifting his rucksack from the luggage rack, he climbed down on to the platform. He stood for a while breathing in the smells of home. Smells he had missed for so long, especially the smell of the sea.
It was lunchtime and he realized that he was hungry. A strange feeling as he had picked at food for months. He walked down the road to the centre of town, looking for a cheap place to eat. The little restaurant he remembered so well was still there. He ordered a simple meal and, to his surprise, he enjoyed it. The owner looked hard at him as he paid his bill, then held out his hand and said "Welcome home".
He walked down to the harbour and sat on a bench under the wall. The fishermen mending their nets were too absorbed in their work to notice him. After a while, soothed by the sound of the water, the meal and the afternoon sun, he fell asleep.
The sun moving round and the slight chill in the air woke him. Struggling into the straps of his rucksack, he winced. The newly healed flesh on his shoulders still caused him discomfort. He made his way up the cobbled streets to the top of the fishing village. There at the end of the street was the old hotel.
Gently he pushed open the door. The noise of the tinkling bell on the door made Mrs Beale look up. Her glasses slipped down her small nose and the eternal knitting fell on the floor. "John" she said, as she huggzd him. "It took a lot of courage to come back. I've put you in the room at the top". He hugged her back and thanked her. Carefully manoeuvering his rucksack up the narrow stairs he reached the room at the top. It was small, simple and clean and overlooked the harbour. Having unpacked his possessions, he leaned on the window sill and watched the boats set sail.
He made his way back down the stairs to the tiny bar where Mrs Beale was waiting for him. He sipped the beer she had poured for him. "Mr Carson rang" she said, "he'll be over shortly."John smiled, thinking of his old school teacher. He had been so good to him and had kept in touch. The contact had made him feel less isolated, less out of touch.
As if on cue Mr Carson opened the door. He shook John's hand, holding his arm and looking long in to his face. He smiled, "You are looking better than I thought you would. Has everything healed," he asked. "As much as it ever will" John replied.
Mr Carson accepted the cup of coffee Mrs Beale held out to him and sat on the other stool. "You saw Ray at lunchtime?" he asked. "Yes, I had lunch at his café" he replied. "He recognized me. Now the whole town will know that I am back.""They'll know sooner or later" Mr Carson said, "In someways he's probably done you a favour by breaking the ice! I have spoken to your boss. He suggests that nyou go to see him in a few days, when you have settled back" he continued. "Mrs Beale suggests you stay here until you feel you can cope with your own place".Mrs Beale nodded, her grey curls bouncing round her plump face. "You know you are welcome for as long as you like. Dinner will be in an hour,"she added.
Deciding to go for a walk, John picked up his coat, went out of the door and down the cobbled street. Children, playing on doorsteps, called to him as he passed. He uttered a hasty greeting and moved away quickly. The sight of theit small eager faces hurt him more than he could cope with. He hurried down a side street and leant against a wall until his heart steadied and his breathing eased. It was silly but understandable. He was now back in the real world and would have to get used to it, small tousle-headed children and all.
He walked for a while, getting used to being back in jis home town. Nothing much had changed and this brought its own comfort.
He started to tire and the thought of one of Mrs Beale's meals and a quiet night held much appeal. He realised then that he was passing the primary school A few children, waiting to be collected, stood by the railings. He forced himself to look at them, seeing in every face, those of his own two, lost with their mother in that terrible fire that had nearly killed him, in his vain efforts to save them.
As he struggled to regain control of himself, Miss Rivers, the enfants teacher came out, holding a small charge by the hand. She smiled at him and came over to the gate where he was standing. "Welcome home John" she said softly, "may you find hope and healing." Looking at her smiling face, he felt that he had.