They called him ‘Dopey Dan’. A kid had coined the nickname when Dan first drifted into town, on the back of a cool autumn breeze. The name had stuck, like the dirt that besmirched his threadbare clothes and weather-beaten face, but he’d made it his own. It was as good as any he’d had over the years.
Dan was enamoured with the once fine town houses he shambled past, the unkempt park where he could snooze in the pale sun, before kids might find and taunt him, and he admired the town’s majestic, though ancient bridge, beneath which he found shelter.
Law enforcement didn’t seem to bother Dan much and when they did, just before they were about to bundle him into a patrol car and drive him to the city limits, something more important would distract them and they’d depart with a skid of tyres and wailing sirens.
He’d spend most of his days walking the streets, humming tunes or seeming to converse with birds and other fauna. People used to shake their heads and gave him a wide berth, but he would still smile at anyone he encountered. Even those that had no time for him walked away energised and the sun seemed warmer on their backs after sighting him.
The park remained his favourite haunt and occasionally a passer-by would give him the remains of their lunch or a half cup of coffee, and he would bless them for their kindness.
Dan meandered through avenues and boulevards and the town prospered and grew. Revitalised communities came together and Dan’s beloved park regained its former glory. Even the young, so eager to escape the confines of the town when they could, no longer felt an urge to leave.
A year passed and Dan vanished just as the seasons turned and leaves took on shades of red and copper brown once more. His loss blew through the town like a chill wind.
Too late, people realised that he’d belonged to them, and they to him. The light had dimmed and now autumn shadows loomed large.