I’m just sitting on the window ledge – smooth, warm marble, generous deep recesses and near the ground so I can comfortably rest – having a chat with my pal. I think his name’s Brian. I’m around most Thursdays and Sundays and now that summer is slowly coming out of her shell I like to sit here with my face tilted up to the sun. I can see why Brian likes it too – it’s is a great spot for being warm. When I reluctantly rise to go, I leave a few coins or a five and then I’m on my way. On the return leg I try to remember to turn back and wave goodbye, but with the thinking going on in my head, sometimes I forget.
It was his dog that I first saw, a barrel-chested black Staffie with a great big grin and a tail that wags so hard, he skites all over the place when he comes to say hello. I’ve always liked Staffordshire Bull Terriers. My mother had one, Susie, who was so excitable that Mum got rid of her. Anyway, I like this fella, who does the same dance with his back end when he is pleased. Took me ages to realise it was a boy, not a girl. But that is me. Always slow to know these things.
Brian is about my age, I guess. Just something about the flecks of grey in his hair which, despite being so badly cut, is thick and shiny when it has just been washed. The sun catches it, and it’s good to see him looking like himself. He looks better with his hoodie off his face, less caught up inside his poor clothes.
Anyway, one morning we were sitting just having a chat, and two young men came up, abruptly stopped and stood opposite us. They were moaning something unintelligible about getting together, being pals and doing stuff. Not looking at me, just at Brian and waving their hands about. From his spot on the ground he quietly looked up at them and said little. Nodded, agreed, doing nothing to aggravate them. He looked so vulnerable sitting on the ground, but if he was anxious, he hid it well. Maybe the dog concealed under the blanket at his side helped with that. I said after they left, “Pissed, you think?” and he said, “A bit of the other….”
How vulnerable the homeless are to being abused. Almost every encounter is with someone standing over them, in front of them, above them. I am glad I was sitting near him that morning, watching the strange interview.
After that, the whole story came out. How he’d had a great life, the fancy car, the big house, a wife and kids and a great job as a chef with a top hotel making obscene amounts of money. He had it all, and I asked if it was a slide into booze…Naw, though he was drinking, it was one mistake with drugs. Cocaine. Just the word terrifies me. Not a great idea being a chef in a kitchen with sharp knives when the paranoia starts to bite either, he said. It didn’t take long to lose the job, the car, the wife and the kids, though his daughter still comes up from South to see him when she can. It takes her twenty-four hours travelling on the bus. She stays the weekend and then she’s off again on another long bus ride home. I said she must love him very much.
I caught myself tearful later on that week, wondering what I might do to help. Would he prefer a large sum, or a smaller weekly amount, I asked? He is realistic, and said that he would prefer the small weekly amount, or it would all just get spent very quickly. So it’s harder to leave the street then. But maybe he would not want a job with a pay-packet. He gets bored easily and he likes being at his pitch, meeting his regulars and having his independence. He can take his dog for a walk in the middle of a sunny day whenever he likes. What will it be like for him when he gets older, though? I wonder about that as I get to the car and drive home.