Monday 15 October 2012

Today I met a man

It was on the tram. I opened my eyes and he leaned forward. So his story started.

'I say duck, you could have a wife and family for this' he said, nodding his head towards his bag.

I smiled politely, but I didn't really understand, so he explained. "I've got five umbrellas in here' he said, 'as well as this one here. I've got six umbrellas, you see.'

Ah. They were big ones, all black, like golf umbrellas, with some writing on them.

'Why have you got six umbrellas?' I asked.

'For showing off' he said. 'I'm going down the railway station and I'm going to show off with them there, and then I'm going down the police station and I'll show off with them there too. Not many people have got six umbrellas you know.' I agreed. I consider myself lucky to have two.

He sat back, happy to have shared the news of his good fortune.

But then his brow furrowed and he leaned forward again. 'I'll tell you what, if them coppers try to arrest me or anything, I'll go down to London to the Daily Mail and I'll tell them, if they try to stop me or anything.'

I said, 'I don't think the police will arrest you for having six umbrellas'. "They'd better not or them coppers better mind out.'

'It's been 27 years I've lived on my own, no partner or anything you know. It were my father, he chucked me out, didn't want anything to do with me. When he died in the year 2000 nobody wanted to know where he were buried, that tells you what kind of a man he were'.

'His birth certificate were right. He were a cowing bastard, that's what he were. A cowing bastard.'

A pause.

'My sister, she got married at 17. She were already pregnant when she got married. She did it because she wanted out the house.'

'My mother, she had two sisters. They wouldn't have anything to do with her. They'd talk to me alright, but not her. A bad pair they were.'

'In 1983 he said, my father, he gave it to be known, so it was almost his express wish, he said he didn't want me walking behind him at his funeral'. I tried to soothe him, 'Families can be so difficult, can't they?'

'People have told me, you've got to stick up for yourself because nobody else will.' I agreed with him, 'You do', I said, 'you really do'. 'But I only speak the truth' he assured me.

Brooding silence for quite some time and I was worried that he was getting himself all upset because he was taking deep breaths. This was obviously a very emotional and painful experience for him.

He started to get ready to leave the tram, but just before he did, he told me one final thing.
'When my sister were pregnant, my father, he didn't want anyone to know, because of the shame. But he didn't get his own way, because I told his brother, that's what I did.'

I said goodbye and wished him well as he went on his way.

I wonder what will become of him, this sad, haunted man with mental health problems who grew up as part of a dysfunctional family in an unhappy household dominated by hatred and anger, which he has not be able to move beyond? I wonder who is there to look after him and to admire his umbrellas? I wonder how many strangers he shares his story with and what kind of a response he gets?

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