When he enters,
his animal scent clears out the buyers and browsers
and the assistant exits in haste.
I wonder if other charity shops blocked him.
Few operate like Oxfam.
Smiling like he’s a friend,
I take shallow breaths though the nose,
keeping my mouth closed except to speak.
He tells me he got a twenty quid drop and needs to buy jeans.
I ask for his size, and pick out two pairs.
“I’m just a drunk,” he slurs, his eyes
clutching at mine as if to defy me to deny
a universal truth.
I refuse to be intimidated.
“Not just a drunk,” I reply. “At your core, you are who you have always been. You have your history, your memories, your moments of reflection. Once you played in the street, or climbed trees. Once, you laughed at your own antics and believed
you were free.”
“Don’t be pedantic,” he growls,
“and tell me where I can have a shower.
I shit my trousers and I need to get clean.”
He’s been waved away away by every hand I recommend.
Then I remember the leisure centre.
We both pretend to believe that he might receive help there.
As he staggers off along the street,
sleek and limber legs reject his presence. Even the pavement
hardens itself against his weaving feet.
From her place in the past, my mother looks askance.
Tears skitter in the sky as I speak to the breeze.
“I treated him like a human being.”
My mother agrees. That is true, at least.
“If I lived somewhere different,
I would have invited him back.”
My mother silently absorbs the lie;
her kindness inhibits her from lecturing me.
©Jane Paterson Basil