From my novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can”.
I was up early this morning, having my constitutional and buying the papers. In one of the tabloids my stars read well, they said I was going to be moving house. It made me laugh, but then laughter turned to sadness at the realisation that laughter is an all-too-rare event of my life in a campervan.
I decide I need to clear my head with a long walk, so I pack a lunch and set off down the Saltburn sands to Redcar. It would be another postcard for the mosaic and another lungful of fresh sea air. It’s a fair old trek and by the time I get to Redcar I’m gasping, so nip in a cafe for a bottle of water.
It’s a bustling little place and as I queue for my beverage I note one of the women waiting on has two black eyes. There’s obviously a story here, but I dare even the most intrepid reporter to ask how she got them…
“You’ve been in the wars,” I say.
“That’ll be a pound,” she says, unsmiling. As I cough up, knowing I won’t get any change out of her, I leave the premises and find a bench seat on the prom, known locally as The Stray. As I sip my water and roll a ciggy, mulling over the possible story behind the woman’s black eyes, I’m joined by a man of about forty, dressed not unlike me in combats and T-shirt.
Bidding me good afternoon, he asks if I mind him joining me for a smoke. I am not apt to say no, and as we soon get into conversation I mention the woman with the black eyes.
“Yea I’ve seen her,” he says, “Looks like there’s an husband handy with his fists.”
“I do wonder,” I say, “but when I asked I got nothing.”
“You asked her?!”
Confirming, with a touch of shame, I explain I’m writing a novel about the waifs and strays of Britain.
“You’re a writer?” he says, “Well if you want a story I’m your man.”
It always amuses me that when someone learns you’re a writer they want to give you material. Like if a comedian reveals his profession the listener wants to tell him a joke. So is it the same with other professions? For example would a carpenter be offered a piece of four-be-two?
But I digress. My new friend did indeed give me his story, which I have to say is unremarkable, disappointing in its familiarity. Hailing from Doncaster, he’d never married but for many years lived with his girlfriend and two sons, he thought happily, until the day she told him to move out. He’d suspected for some time that she’d got someone else, then found a text on her phone to prove it. She confessed and said it was over. He had a job at the time but spiralled into drink and drugs. One day he went into work and they smelled alcohol, sacking him on the spot.
“I pleaded innocence,” he says, “told ’em what had gone on and asked for compassionate leave. They said no. Even Human Resources turned their back.”
“Human Resources are only as resourceful as the humans in charge of it,” I say.
“I said exactly the same,” he says, “or words to that effect.”
I confess that while I’m trying to listen undividedly, I’m a bit distracted because throughout his story there is a bogey hanging off his nose. This has happened to me before and I remember not knowing what to do about it. Does the intrepid reporter tell the person? Does he try not to look and find it impossible? Or does he just wait for it to fall of its own volition? Anyway, his story goes on, bogey dangling dangerously on the edge of its cliff, and I am moved to hear he’s fallen into debt and is now just homeless and drifting. He hasn’t seen his sons in years.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say, opening my packed lunch and offering to share. “Just cheese and bread I’m afraid.”
“You’re a gent and a scholar,” he says.
So there we are, a couple of strays, a couple of tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, enjoying a sandwich amid a pregnant pause that Beckett might’ve penned. It doesn’t matter what we’re waiting for. What matters is that we’ve each found a kindred spirit, someone to bounce ideas and story off, someone in whom to confide about the burden of loneliness, depression, occasional laughter and desperate hope that there is more to life than this. And amid the shared lunch, spliff and halved optimism, the bogey finally drops from his nostril and bounces away, to where is a mystery. I can only hope it’s cleared my sandwich box.
“It’s been nice talking to you,” he says as we part company, “You’re a good sort. People like you give me hope.”
As I return to the café for a pot of tea and sit to write my notes, I ponder the man’s words and feel good that I’ve given him hope. I like to think there’s hope for all of us, including the woman with the two black eyes who’s still unsmiling behind the counter. But what is her story? Is my new friend right about the domestic abuse or is there a far more innocent reason for the two black eyes? Perhaps it’s not for me to speculate, I should only wish that this morning her stars read well too.
As I leave the café some minutes later I stop to stroke a dog.
“She likes you,” says the owner, a lady in her sixties.
“Lovely little thing,” I say.
“She was a stray,” says the lady. “She was starving when we found her. Cruel some people are.”
“We fattened her up and gave her love,” she says, “She’s happy now. Aren’t you, Lucky?”