All The Lonely People

Homeless/Lonely Person


This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent on June 12, 2005

All the lonely people,
where do they all belong?
All the lonely people,
where do they all come from?

Lennon and McCartney – Eleanor Rigby

Among the hordes of Saturday afternoon shoppers he somehow stood out. The look on his face was agony contained, broken-hearted bewilderment. I was late for an appointment, hurrying briskly, but as he walked past me, down that narrow alley that leads between Grafton Street and Clarendon Street, I couldn’t help but stop and stare. He didn’t look like he’d been sleeping rough. His clothes were too clean for that. But his hands were filthy and there was a tiny graze on his left temple. He was young maybe twenty or twenty-one. He wasn’t begging or even catching people’s eyes. He stared at his shoes and into shop windows before shuffling on.I had walked past him when my conscience pricked me. I knew I’d be thinking of this crumpled figure all the way through lunch. I turned around and touched him on the shoulder. ‘Are you ok’ I asked him. He looked up forlornly. ‘No, not really’ he began in a thick Welsh accent, ‘I’m lost and I dunno what to do.’

He told me that he had come to Ireland after being offered a carpentry job in Galway. When he arrived over the job fell through and he had decided to make his way to Dublin. On the way one of his bags containing his money was stolen and now he had nowhere to stay and no way of getting back to Wales. ‘The Guards sent me to Focus and Focus sent me to SIMON and SIMON sent me to the St Vincent de Paul’ he told me, his eyes filling with tears. ‘The only ones who have been really nice to me were the homeless people. They seen me wandering around on my own and one or two of them asked me my name and if I was alright.’

What about his parents? Could he not ring his family? ‘Well my father and mother work for a canning company in Bahrain, I’m not very close to them and I don’t have a contact number for them. I just need to go back to Wales and my neighbours will let me into their house and it will all be ok.’ By now he was really blubbing. His story seemed too preposterous to be made up. I put my arms around him. He was shaking, sobbing into my jacket. He had an aura of genuineness. I thought of the slick, professional beggar who had demanded my attention at the ATM and then cursed me as I walked off without giving him anything. I thought of the aggressive ‘chubbers’ who had accosted me every step of the way through town. This guy had not once asked me for anything and yet he was in dire need, stranded far from home without a friend in the world.

‘Here, listen’ I said ‘come on with me, I’ll help you’. We walked a few yards back to the ATM. The beggar was gone now. I withdrew 100 Euro and gave it to him. ‘Oh Jesus man, I don’t know what … let me get a pen and paper so I can write down your address. I have to pay you back.’ I told him not to worry about it. It’s not a good idea to, like Blanche Dubois, rely on the kindness of strangers but sometimes it’s the only option. At this stage I was feeling almost fatherly towards him. ‘Now, don’t lose that’ I cautioned as he folded the notes and put them in the pocket of his jeans. ‘I won’t mister’ he said, brightening considerably. ‘What’s your name mister? Well thanks Donal. You’re a good man.’

And so instead of haunting me over lunch he became a lunch anecdote and I walked around feeling slightly pious about my swift and timely intervention in one young man’s life. Perhaps, I imagined, he would return to Wales, write a best-selling novel or make a hit record and dedicate it to a mystery benefactor in Dublin. There was a reason why I had recognised this person. This valley boy was destined for big things.

Such fantasies were abruptly shattered last Tuesday as I hurried though Temple bar and watched my charity case strolling past with a bottle of cider in his hand. For a moment I was transfixed. Id’ heard the apocryphal stories of the conmen on Grafton Street but nobody is that dishonest, are they?

‘Er excuse me’ I said grabbing his arm, ‘aren’t you that guy who got 100 euro from me last week?’ He looked at me blankly before a flicker of recognition crossed his face. ‘Oh yeeeah. Well see, the thing is, I did go home. But then I came back. And I have a job.’ Spot of lunchtime drinking? ‘Er yeah well…’

I walked away. I wasn’t going to wait around for another Academy Award performance. I’d been had. Good and proper. Well, I tried to reason with myself, if you can give him money to go home and he still can’t get himself off the street, then he really is in dire need. I was just beginning to resign myself to this view when a bibbed figure with a clipboard jumped into my path. ‘Hi sir, can you spare a moment of your time for homeless people?’

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~ by Donal Lynch on March 25, 2008.

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