It was during one of our mothers’ group meetings that I first met The Man. We’d been sprawled on the grassy knowl across from the mothers’ alley stretch of cafes across from the Crows Nest Centre.
Lucy, the one year old, like me, was growing restless. We were finding it hard to keep paying attention to the neverending discussion around the shifting sleeping patterns and the speculated culprits like lactose intolerance, teething, food allergies, constipation, diarrhea and other vaguely defined maladies keeping the bubs and consequently, the mums up at nights.
‘Who misses dirty sex?’ I wanted to ask. Maybe I should have. Instead I ran after Lucy crawling towards the street musician playing a God aweful rendition of ‘Nights in White Satin’ in an acquired American accent.
Lucy continued to crawl towards the musician and then turned right as she’d spotted the sandstone steps of the Church which beckoned me to its Gothic bosom. On top of the stairs, in front of the front door instead of a welcome mat, there he was, a welcomed squatter.
Lucky bastard I remember thinking to myself. All of his possessions could fit in a small duffel bag. I thought about the clutter in my home. In contrast, here was the picture of elegance. A few books on Golf stacked on top of each other, a plastic coffee mug, mittens, beanies and at least ten layers of sheets to keep warm when the sun’s warmth left for a season.
Saying ‘hello’ was pleasant because he smiled and said ‘hi’ back. I was not expecting it. He’d seemed to have cut all relations with the life around him and retreated into the shell of his inner space like a hermit crab.
This past Wednesday was a proud day.
The Man has one more item added to his inventory of the stuff that draw the boundaries of his physical space.
I have one less item at home.
After my early morning walk on Wednesday, as the sun started to warm the sky, I saw The Man. He was wide awake.
‘Would you like a coffee?’ I asked him. I had my travel mug with me. A thing of marvel, it kept hot liquids hot for a very long time. It was a Christmas gift from my mum-in-law, a social worker though of retirement age, will never stop doing the work. We have that in common. I will never stop doing the work now that I’ve accepted my gift (finally!) of using written expression to connect with myself, those around me and David Bowie’s spirit (long story…His death pretty much kicked my arse in gear).
The Man said ‘yes’…
I didn’t believe him. I asked again and he nodded and said ‘yes’ with a little more breath.
The only coffee shop that was open in the wee hours, 6:30am or thereabouts was Charlie Lovett. I paid $4.50 to get my travel mug filled up. I’d only taken enough coffee for one coffee, my coffee. Also, even if I could coax a second one, they’d have to use a disposable cup, which I hear can’t be recycled.
I asked the little Asian guy behind the counter to throw in a biscotti or something to have the coffee with.
He was puzzled and when I insisted he gave me a cookie with the colourful M&Ms that had been crumbled. I ate a little piece, a bit stale but still tasted alright.
I gave The Man the cookie and the coffee in the travel mug (congratulating myself on having offloaded one more Christmas gift. I’m writing a book about the real meaning of gifts and discovering this through artfully discarding the Christmas gifts I received from 13 loved ones I shared Christmas dinner with at the mum-in-law’s place).
He had an Arnott’s biscuit in hand so looked at the colourful crumbled up cookie with some suspicion.
It’s Friday today and I peeked at The Man’s home. He’s still got the shiny travel mug I’d gifted him.
Look at the photo, it’s on the right side!
I think it’s become one of his most cherished possessions (or maybe not…He may be too polite to regift it or dispose of it. I can only find out by asking him).
If I get him one more cup of coffee he may just tell me more about himself. He’s been living in the Lower North Shore all his life so he told me.
I wonder if anyone’s pried out of him the what, where, when, how and why of hanging onto life and what’s the story of the Golf books?
Maybe we’ll never know. At least I offloaded the gift in a way a social worker would approve of.