I took my money from the cash point before spinning round to put a face to the voice.
A swarthy, weathered, bearded face with a hat on top smiled back.
“Hello,” I replied, certain that I did not know this weather-beaten, friendly man.
“You’re beautiful,” he continued.
Now, I can be naive, but even I could see how this might pan out.
“Thank-you,” I smiled at him – until he revealed an ulterior motive, I had no reason to be ungracious.
“I would love to take you out to dinner,” he continued.
“Oh,” I was not expecting that.
I looked at the multitude of bags he was carrying. Or were they carrying him … in all their togetherness, they must have weighed more than him and he was a big chap.
A little earlier, I had encountered the Rastafarian. I happened to be by a small bakery/cafe, which, unbeknownst to me, was near to where he was currently sofa-surfing and he had pleaded poverty with me. I was getting a coffee, so I got two and thrust one of the cups into his grasping hand. He was grateful in a horrible, obsequious manner and I felt way too generous, given his past treatment of me. But I tried to enjoy the feeling of superior turf beneath my feet up on that moral high ground. Then he invited me back to his place and I gave him a firm ‘no’. And he got stroppy. Meanwhile, I was discovering that I didn’t have any cash to pay for the coffees – I had intended using a card but their chip and pin machine was broken.
“It is ok – you bring me money when you next here,” said the lovely Greek owner. Whether he was aware of the tension between me and the Rastafarian, I do not know, but it was kind of him. And that was how I was at a cashpoint in the first place, strangely encountering yet another homeless man.
“I’m not looking for a relationship,” I explained, leaving the words with a homeless man off the end of the sentence.
“Ah, that’s a shame,” he replied and – I don’t wish to sound unkind – but I marvelled at his self-belief, that he could ask someone who was clearly not homeless (i.e. me) out to dinner whilst in a state of homelessness. I mean, I wasn’t looking like I’d stepped off the front of Vogue, but I don’t think I looked homeless.
“Are you walking this way?” he motioned down the street that I was, indeed, heading towards to pay off my debt to Kind Greek Man.
“Yes,” I replied and I explained my reasons.
“Ah,” he inhaled, “I can smell the coffee from here!”
I couldn’t, surely, end up buying two coffees for homeless men in the space of an hour …
“I work with the homeless,” he continued.
“Really??” I said, with a bit too much disbelief, “But you’re homeless …?”
“Me? No … no no,” he hotly denied the accusation and I said nothing in reply.
“But …” I braced myself for a request for something material, “… I have lost my wallet …”
“So … I was wondering … could you possibly get me a coffee?”
I agreed to buy him a coffee, because like most people, I am not averse to helping the homeless and Kind Greek Man had been generous to me and one good turn deserves another … etc …
Then as I went inside, he called out:
“And a croissant would be nice! Preferably an almond one?”
“Don’t push it!” I laughed, but inwardly marvelling at how I was being fleeced twice by the homeless community in one morning.
But I did get him a croissant.
“Let’s sit outside,” he smiled, as he took my present of coffee and croissant and started arranging chairs round a table.
Well, I doubt they would let you inside, I thought. Just the bags alone were enough.
“Thanks, but I’m not stopping,” I told him and felt sad at the way his face fell into seriousness.
“Oh well!” he rallied himself and handed me a scrawl on a scrap of paper.
“Call me if you fancy being wined and dined!”
And there was his number. I have felt like being wined and dined many a time since that day, but somehow, I doubt that Mr Swarthy with a penchant for almond croissants would be able to fulfil that particular wish of mine.
The drive back from Joseph’s graduation was a long one. But it was a familiar drive; with Joseph having just completed 3 years at university there, I was accustomed to driving to and fro Chester for visits and the occasional drop-off/pick-up. Fortunately, I enjoy driving and on this particular journey I had had the pleasure of Rhiannon’s company; we had left Joseph and Hannah in Liverpool, where Hannah’s family lives.
But long journeys, pleasurable or not, are tiring and on our return, neither of us felt like cooking, so we made a pit-stop at the takeaway pizza outlet at the bottom of our road.
“I look dreadful,” I glanced in the rear-view mirror at my hair severely dragged off my face with a Kirbigrip and looked down at the comfy trousers that were unfit for human viewing.
“Good job we’re just going into the takeaway then!” I got no sympathy from my hungry daughter as she got out the car and so I followed.
We placed our orders and looked up from the menu, having been scrutinising it for a good five minutes for the best deals. I squinted at the clinically bright lights and then stopped squinting, when they became blocked by a familiar form.
“Lisa,” said the pizza delivery man, as he walked out from behind the counter with a big bag, presumably full of pizzas.
“Oh!” I stared at the rather good-looking chap with the Middle-Eastern accent in front of me.
“Mum,” said Rhiannon.
I introduced them.
“I have missed those eyes,” continued Middle-Eastern Chap.
And then he left to deliver pizzas.
“You know the pizza delivery guy??” enquired Rhiannon and rightly so.
“Well, clearly you do!”
“Yes – but not when he was a pizza delivery guy!”
“So when did you know him?”
“When he wasn’t one and I barely know him!”
“But he’s ‘missed those eyes’!”
I explained how I had met him one night when I was out with friends and as I was single at the time, I agreed to meet him the next day for a date. And that was it.
I have missed you.
Wow. No time wasted.
Shouldn’t you be delivering pizzas?
I can’t concentrate on pizzas now I have seen you after all this time.
We went on one date.
I know. I have thought about you ever since.
“Two medium pizzas, one side order of potato wedges and one side order of onion rings.”
I snatched my reflection in a mirror on the way out and noticed, in a mirror larger than my rear-view mirror that I also had a smear of oil on my cheek from when I’d topped the car up with oil on the journey.
After gorging on pizzas, I addressed the issue of the persistent pizza delivery guy from the Middle East and explained to him, via text messaging, that, if he remembered, I had decided after one date that I did not wish to pursue a relationship with him and nothing had changed since to make me change my mind.
OK. Let’s just meet for a drink then.
But still I was treated to a textual manifestation of the pain of my absence from his life. As I liked the pizzas from the pizza takeaway down the road (this was pre-veganism) I decided that a candid explanation, face-to-face, over a drink was needed.
Before this could be arranged, the topic of the text messaging changed slightly.
Do you have a spare room to rent?
Funnily enough, yes – I was going to start looking. Do you know someone who is looking to rent?
No, I don’t know how I didn’t see this coming either.
Oh! That changes things. Sorry – no.
Because you want a relationship and I only want friendship.
No! No no no! Now I only want friendship!
Sorry. It just wouldn’t be a good idea.
But I’m homeless …
The following night I bumped into him, when I was en route to the bus-stop and he was en route to his pizza delivery van. I stopped to say ‘hi’ and possibly arrange to meet up and have that candid chat … and also a chat about how I could possibly help his plight. But he swept past me, without even stopping to linger at ‘those eyes’ he had apparently ‘missed’. I was as speechless as when I saw him initially in the pizza takeaway place. I continued on my way – I was going to an Open Mic night in town. It was a pleasant evening and I was particularly happy to run into a chap who used to organise Open Mic nights at another pub. He looked different – a bit melancholy and scruffy. I decided to wend my way down to the tiny bar when I saw him go down to refill his glass, to chat to him.
“Lisa,” he said, a bit too earnestly and whilst looking into my eyes a bit too seriously, “I’m homeless.”
I asked where he was sleeping and he assured me that he was able to sofa-surf for the moment. He played at the pub and he got his free drink. This reminded me of when I got chatting to a homeless chap in Pavilion Gardens. He offered to draw me in charcoal but I said I only had about a pound in change on me and I didn’t really have time to go to a cashpoint. In addition, he had no evidence to suggest that he could draw a decent picture, until he opened his bag and showed me his art materials.
“It will take 90 seconds of your life,” he explained.
And that is all it took.
I gave him a pound and he gave me a very cool rendition of me in charcoal. He told me that he was going to buy a can of beer with his pound and quite frankly, if I was homeless, I’d want plenty of cans of beer. And he was definitely homeless. Sometimes I laugh inwardly at very tanned, wealthy men, because I imagine them in dirty layers of raggedy clothes and they would look homeless. Likewise, sometimes, I imagine a homeless man in a pair of Hawaiian shorts and their over-tanned skin would make them look every inch the middle-class man holidaying abroad.
Anyway, my point is that there are some great homeless people. And some not-so-great homeless people. Just as we shouldn’t assume that they are all wasters, neither should we assume that they are all worth our time. They are ordinary people, like us. Some of them want to be homeless and some of them don’t. Some of them want to be helped and some of them don’t.
Ex-hubby no 2 gave me a card, many years ago, when we were still together, which was very funny. There was a picture of a camp man pointing towards the recipient of the card, with the caption:
‘You made me gay!’
It was a reference to the fact that I had – and still have – many gay friends, many of whom had ‘come out’ during my friendship with them.
I think there is a gap in the market here: I now need a card with a leathery looking homeless man on the front and the caption:
‘You made me homeless!’