An unnatural beauty sat on the park bench next to me. This was something quite unusual. Typically, people see my scruffy exterior, my life in a shopping bag, twigs in my beard, and instantly they assume I’m going to steal their teeth. But not this woman. She sat with poise and coffee, her flowing locks highlighted even more by the fluctuating waves adorning her bright blue dress, I could almost feel the fun radiating from her. I became nervous. I would have given her my whole holey shopping bag, my everything, simply to share a smile.
To my surprise, our eyes met, but instantly I turned away as I felt completely unworthy of this woman’s glance. Her eyes spoke of innocence and privilege whereas mine spoke of hardship. After a few more seconds passed, my awkward intrigue swelling, our eyes met again. This time I quickly faced the cold bitumen. Then a soft husky voice uttered, like that of an angel, and what rung in my ears was ‘don’t be scared, there’s no need to be shy’. In all my insecurity I looked up.
‘Hi, I’m Charlotte and what’s your name?’ said this woman.
I stared at her like she must be crazy.
Maybe I was in shock as people never ever talk to me.
I mustered up some courage and bumbled a bit, ‘umm… err… ha-ay I’m Old Sport’. I scoffed nervously but continued. ‘You know like from the book Gatsby!’
‘Err… heerk… I guess I should say welcome to my home!’
Immediately I thought that was the most daft thing to say, especially to sunshine so neatly packed. I mean being the first words I’d spoken to anyone in three days, I was convinced they’d be lost in translation. But Charlotte smiled.
‘Oh you’re a comedian… and homeless. That’s a strange combination’ said Charlotte in an endearing manner. ‘Actually, I work in a soup kitchen two days a fortnight, and honestly some of the people I’ve met there are the loveliest, caring… most unlucky…’ she then stopped abruptly. Maybe it was because my brow was lowering and my bottom lip was rising above my top one..
I’d never met anyone like this before, in fact my only thought was that she was a real-life angel. So, and trying not to get caught, I scanned her person a little more to figure her out. No make-up, summer dress on a cold day, pink canvas Converse shoes, a bright yellow Crumpler bag, a beaming Colgate smile, she appeared to be someone happy and content. I wondered where she lived, about her family, if she had a boyfriend, this was the most intrigued I’d been about anyone in years.
Silence followed my optical interrogation. Maybe I’d been busted, looked perverse, insulted her? But ever so calmly she reached into her bag, ‘wanna chip?’
‘Hell yes’ I replied.
With her chip packet now rustling, my hand almost bursting through the bottom, she boldly asked ‘so what’s it like? You know living on the streets and all that?’ Typically I wouldn’t answer such a question, only in this case her eyes were branded with trust.
Thinking… I took another chip.
Then as if she was my psychologist or something, I let go with this great almighty monologue. I guess I needed it emotionally, as the tears in my eyes told.
‘Bum, degenerate, loser, I am so sick of these assumptions – crunch – which really is what people call me. Only is this my worth? Is this my truth’ I grabbed another chip and continued. ‘I mean I have things thrown at me, I’ve been spat on, even kicked in the goolies – crunch – meh but I roll with the soccer-crowd violence despite the fact that the only game being played around here is my life. There is no stadium, no crowd rather a city, a city that I roam the streets like a winner – but no chicken dinner’.
Charlotte’s eyes began blackening. Still I continued.
‘Yes, I am homeless yet far from a bum or degenerate, this was my choice. I have the freedom of a cougar. I am not in a zoo like you, I am wild, I have that same innocence as a cub or child. Playing in boxes – crunch – and admittedly dumpsters, believe it or not, I’m content without all you liars. You play Monopoly and the Jonses while I play the moment. And to me this is worth the occasional kick. Your social ficklism is flawed, it is a capitalism brawl!’
Wow. I didn’t quite expect to be telling anybody all this let alone to a perfect stranger, but to finally have an ear that cared, it felt like conversation over coffee. Muffins included, It reminded me of a small part of my old Starbucks life.
‘Holy shit, now I wasn’t expecting that!’ said Charlotte with an element of surprise in her voice.
I thought heck I wasn’t either.
Charlotte now spoke from her heart, ‘Old Sport you have sophistication, understanding… my good man you deserve a Polly Woffle-
I envisaged a golden orb.
She said ‘tell me more’.
This was said reaching deep into her bag to grab the chocolate bar.
‘Well, where did these views of altruism come from?
Unwrapping the thousand calories, feeling like a kid at Christmas, I now felt obliged to tell this curious sponge more. Munch. Chocolate crunch. ‘Err, umm, err… well once upon a time I studied politics and philosophy, I never finished though’ said with the nervous twitch returning to my voice. ‘Meen-tall health… life… people… why was I even born?’
Charlotte held my shoulder in comfort, ‘Old Sport you know what you’re experiencing – life’.
I leant forward and began to cry.
What was happening? Man, what was happening? A few minutes earlier I was sitting alone on some planks of wood, it could’ve been a spectacular jetty for all I knew, only now here I was weeping all over my broken shield. And all that broke it was a few potato chips, a Polly Woffle, and some simple human attention and kindness. I was becoming so emotional, I wanted to flay far away. To fly into extinction like that flightless funny bird.
Between my tears, my rustled feathers like spears, I continued my out-pouring, ‘… but I’m hiding from the social industrial complex, all I want is simple, is that a crime?’
Charlotte gripped my shoulder tighter. I’d forgotten completely about the snacks now.
‘You know what this is?’ said this voice way beyond her years, ‘this is total paranoia!’
‘Nobody is out to get you’.
She was right.
I sat up tall and strong, and unleashed yet another monologue, only without my shield I was in full attack mode. ‘You know back in medieval times living in nature, sleeping under the stars, this was normal. I am normal. A bed, a sofa, a swimming pool, these are simply unnecessary 21st century comforts. We are animals yeah! My bank balance does not make me worse or better! Body odour is natural!’ Anger had found my voice. And in all my emotion-filled weirdiness, I took a bite of the Polly Woffle as if it were the rear hind quarter of a roasted pig.
‘The government…’ I bellowed. ‘That Kevin Rudd…’ I scoffed.
Random thoughts jumping, bouncing, almost as if I was crazy.
Charlotte began her own rant. ‘I’m curious… so you think your scrambled mind makes you a lesser human being? It brought about your failures. Dropping out of University. I’m assuming you’ve had some fallouts with friends and family as well, even spent some time in mental health institutions, and finally you hated the world so much that you’ve ended up homeless. And look this is all very big picture, I’m sure you have your own sketch pad of pain, but at the soup kitchen I’ve heard many similar stories. Look I might even be wrong – though I doubt it – but the bottom line is that the system is broken.’
Reaching into her Crumpler again, Charlotte pulled out a golden banana. Instantly I replied ‘man, what have you got in there a God damn supermarket?’ She laughed.
Lucky, because I was starting to feel uncomfortable with this conversation. Miss smarty pants just put me in a box and the box was correct. But I hate that. When I’m cornered, I see blue with streamlined clouds.
I grabbed the banana nevertheless.
Munching away, I turned away. ‘Is everything okay?’ the ex-angel asked.
‘No’ I grumbled.
‘I’m so sorry I must have said the wrong thing, I’m truly apologetic – Old Sport?’ said the woman now grovelling to my right.
‘Why does everybody assume they know my history? Everybody wants the gory details! Look I’m not even wearing any underwear; and you know why? Because I don’t have any! Now pull that out of your fucking Christmas sack!’ I said rather obnoxiously.
I slid further away across the seat, even turned away more shoving my back in her face. But still munching on my banana. In a child-like disgust, I accentuated throwing the skin away.
A hand then started to rub my back, obviously it was Charlotte. Gees, this woman was not leaving me alone. Who was I, Fabio? ‘I won’t abandon you, I won’t give up on you, I’m sure these have been a constant throughout your life’ said what’s-her-face in a loving manner. She also continued to rub my back in the exact same way my mother did.
‘WHAT!!’ I turned around and screamed in her face. She sat unmoved. This aggravated me even more’.
‘What you want to hear how my dad died – fucking cancer – when I was eight, how my gutless mum chose heroin over me, then how she started injecting me too? She could hear me crying myself to sleep every night, missing my role model, my Mike Brady, she told me that it would ease my pain. It eased hers. Fuck, I was only twelve!’
‘Is that what you want to hear?’
‘Or how my step-asshole enjoyed touching my dangly bits?’
‘But you made it to Univers…’ Charlotte exclaimed with curiosity. I interrupted her.
‘Yeah after child fucking welfare intervened, then the whole teenage adoption debacle. My Starbucks life.’
‘Any more food?’ I asked. ‘This information doesn’t come for free’.
‘No, sorry’ Charlotte said from her back foot.
And on that note, which was possibly because of the now empty lunchbox, I started bawling. A river flowed all over the grass. The cost of chronic trauma flowed freely. ‘The pity pedestal doesn’t warrant my worth’ I said. ‘No love, no Polly Woffles, no rubbing of my shoulder would ever make any of my hurt and pain better’.
I mean who was this woman, Mother Freakin Theresa?
I knew that tonight, and every night thereafter I’d be one with the refrigerated blanket. Feeling the stale loneliness. And if I’m unfortunate and pick the wring slice of cardboard to sleep, I may even get kicked in the face. Seriously. I know the score, and that there is no peanuts at this game. No cheerleaders either, just sympathisers.
‘All I want is a fire to keep me warm, the fire of passion in my heart’. I told my current sympathiser this, she replied ‘let me help you?’
‘Let me grab you lunch and a coffee? We can talk. We can talk about finding you some temporary accommodation’.
The putrid scent of responsibility wafted through the air.
‘Arrrgh’ I screamed. ‘Arrrgh, arrrgh, arrrgh… squark!’
I could not do this. I was not ready for this. Charlotte had my balls.
‘Err… umm…’ – teeth chattering.
I stood up, never said a word, grabbed my Coles bag and half ran half hobbled as fast as I could toward the horizon. My duffle coat flapping in the wind, I never even looked back. I even flapped my arms like a bird as I ran, screaming Cockadoodledoo. Because I’m not a bum, degenerate or loser, I am an escape artist and that’s what I do.
‘Old Spooort’ was all a heard in the distance. A familiar sound.