No Place to Go

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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

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18 thoughts on “No Place to Go

        1. Yes. My poem wasn’t accurate – Bobby is in a wheelchair. They snuck up on him while he was dozing. It makes me sick the way the most vulnerable rough sleepers are targeted. Maybe he’s been put in a home. I don’t know how he’d cope with that, though it could be for the best.

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    1. I couldn’t have brought him back to my place – I live in sheltered association housing and I have vulnerable neighbours. Even if he didn’t kick off, I’d have been in trouble… but even if I had my own place, I don’t know if I would have let him use my shower. My mum was a better person than me – she’d have let him use her bath, if she was alive.

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        1. That conversation was the summer before last, but he’s been on my mind. The street people did their best to watch out for him, but last summer a couple of kids set fire to him while he was dozing in his wheelchair. Bobby wasn’t badly hurt, but it might have made the authorities more aware of him. He disappeared a few months ago, so maybe he died, unless he’s in a care home. If so, the staff have their work cut out for them. The poor man is old, and has been on the streets for years xx

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    1. I should try to find out what happened to him. This may sound terrible, but I can’t bring myself to ask the street sleepers. All the ones I know are addicts of one kind or another, and since Laura and Paul got clean I don’t seem to be able to approach any of them. I saw too much of it over the years, and I was too involved.
      So much for my plan to start an addiction blog. That went by the wayside. It’s too painful. Shame on me…

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