Monday 14 January 2013

NOWHERE TO GO - A Short Encounter

You get what you ask for but not when you expect or in the way that you imagine. 

A young-ish black haired man in a tracksuit ran down the platform and just managed to get on the train before the doors closed and it pulled away. He sat opposite me, one seat further down, and he was clearly in distress about something. I prayed for him silently and wondered to God if there was anything I could do for him. There wasn't! But I'm always wondering.

Later, at 10.00 p.m. on that pleasant night in May when I had it in mind to go the bed early, the door bell rang. We don't usually answer  at this hour but when it rang I opened the door on instinct. A slim fair-haired man was swaying back and forth with an unmistakable smell of drink off him. He wasn't badly bruised or anything but he had the look of having been beaten. There was blood above his left eyebrow. His clothes were dirty.

"I promise I haven't been drinking" he began, his speech refined, even if slurred and he handed me a piece of paper from the local Garda station which stated that he had been arrested for being disorderly. The disorder had taken place at the halting site where he lives. His own claim is that he had been beaten up by his family.

So now he had nowhere to go and he wanted me to help. I'm new here. I don't know where to take a homeless man. If he were a woman I would try getting him into the women's refuge. I have some experience there.

I told him to wait - closing the door on him because the others were already in bed and I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't cause a rumpus.

I phoned the local hospital, was put through to A&E and explained the situation to the nurse. While she went to look for information there was the sound of fighting at the door, so I dropped the phone and ran. Three young lads who had been standing at the bus stop had come in and attacked Jimmy who was now sitting on the ground. They ran away when I opened the door.

"They called me a queer" he complained "and attacked me for no reason at all." 

I decided to get him out of there for his own safety and for my sleeping household, though they must be awake now with the noise and if awake a bit worried.

A bottle flashed beneath his jacket. 

"You have to give me that" I said.

Like a child he produced it and I said "if I'm to help you at all then we have to get rid of this. You've had too much already."

"Alright! "It was a half full bottle of vodka which I poured into the flower bed and dumped the bottle in the bin.

We got into my car, having no idea where we were going. I wanted to go by the Garda station to ask if they knew a place where he might spend the night but he - naturally - would not agree and suggested we go to the next town.

I drove to the seafront, left him in the car and went to see if there was a B&B or hotel where he might stay but without success. Finally I phoned the Garda station giving no names. They had no idea where a homeless man might get a bed.

One of my colleagues phoned me "are you alright?" he asked with real concern. 

"You heard the noise" I said "sorry about the disturbance but I'm fine. I'm trying to get a bed for a homeless man. Don't worry!"

Back to the car. He had flattened out the passenger seat and was sleeping but woke as soon as I opened the door. He was hungry so we drove down to the Greek Take-Away which was empty except for the four men behind the counter. Three of them in their 20's who looked guardedly at Jimmy. The older - in his 40's I guess - took the order. Burger & chips & Coke for Jimmy who said he wanted cheese on the chips. I translated and the man not only obliged but gave him enough chips to feed a family. I wasn't having anything.

We sat on a bench near the sea. It was midnight. He insisted I eat so we ate chips out of the one bag and drank Coke out of the one bottle. Cheese on chips is very, very nice.

"Why did your family beat you up?" I asked him.

"They think I'm a queer!" The second time he used that word. It's a Traveller kind of word, the old-fashioned word for gay, and a reality that would not go down well at all in their community. I thought of the book "Gypsy Boy On The Run" which tells such a story and it's very violent.

"But I'm not a queer" he said, "I know I'm effeminate but I have two children in England. Don't you think I'm effeminate?" 

"No. I think you're refined, maybe gentle."

So we talked and ate on that beautiful night. We talked about tomorrow, how he could come back to me sober and we could work something out together. There are possibilities. 

It was so peaceful and it seemed like a eucharist, a real encounter with Christ. No doubt I was eating with Christ there. He sobered somewhat and I was completely at a loss as to what to do. I wouldn't take him home with me and hated the fact that there was nowhere for him to go, that I myself was so unable to do anything worthwhile to help him. 

In the end it was he who made the decision. "Take me to the bus stop. I'll get the night bus." 

My guess is that he got no bus because the stop is near the halting site where he lives. Maybe he went home to his lonely portocabin and God knows to what else...I went home, lay awake for a long time and prayed for him.

When tomorrow came I watched out for him but he never arrived and I suppose I knew he wouldn't.

“The worst prison would be a closed heart.” (Blessed Pope John Paul II)

My heart opened a little, like a door ajar. But I will remain somewhat a prisoner, the person on the other side of the door will remain a prisoner until I learn to open it fully. Sadly I've been saying that all my life.

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