I was having a bad day, ruffled as an indignant pigeon, pride-punched by too much filing and heart-hurt by all the other jobs I can’t seem to get. My angry shoes gave the pavement ‘what for’ as I carved my lunch break up the street, irritable and anxious wondering where there was to could get to.
The homeless guy on the pavement glanced my way. I dredged up a smile for him, for me, staving off guilt at not buying the leaf edged magazines he shuffled, awkwarder than I. I cornered into the shop next door, sailing hard and high on my thoughtless-thoughtful tempests of inner wind – poor me.
And then I heard my name said softly – looked back, wondered where. Went back, looking and saw him still there, saying my name like an apology, a sort of sorry softly spoken.
I was perplexed, suspicious, wondered if I had a ID tag dangling somewhere. I was certain I’d never seen him before (how could I know someone like him?) but felt that rising itch of social anxiety that sneaks up when you’re accosted at a party by someone you don’t know, who seems to know you. It is not always good to be unforgettable.
‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ I didn’t, undeniable, searched his face for clues but found none.
He told me his name and it meant nothing still. I had no recognition to offer, and I saw sadness growing in his red-ringed eyes alone, unknown, undiscovered.
He persisted determined, pushed it a foot past awkward, listed other names, friends from twenty years back, and then the penny dropped.
Now, at thirty he looked fifty but at sixteen he was the lovey darling-darling, from the family with a piano but no TV. He’d left for drama school in the city, free-bird flown, and then forgotten. Now he stood in front of me scrap-clad, shivering, filling in the gaps – drugs I didn’t know the names of, jail time, years when life required no effort to be allowed to fall apart. Now this, a street pitch selling magazines, and a last ditch attempt to get back, long-lost, to somewhere that might just look like normal.
I hugged him, spoke simply what was in my heart, made a plan to meet that I didn’t think he’d keep (he didn’t). Then walked back to work, half an hour late but a tonne lighter, brightened by his courage in just being as he was, even uncomfortable, shrugging off the if, ought, shoulds for just a moment to reach out with hello.
We all start somewhere. I’ll try again.