A world, pulling faces

adelaideMy girlfriend and I were boarding the Bee Line from North Terrace to Central Market. We were last in line, except for a bearded homeless man with a Coles shopping trolley full of his worldly belongings.

We filed neatly and wordlessly through the front door.

He waited by the back door.

“Ramp please!” he shouted. I think the driver pretended not to hear him. “Ramp please! Ramp! Ramp!

The driver activated the wheelchair access ramp that extends from beneath the chassis, pretending that he didn’t mind.

Once aboard, people pretended not to notice the man and, when appropriate, pretended not to mind having their shins bruised by his untamed mobile home. The man was so focused, I don’t remember him pretending anything. He reminded me of a lion tamer.

We invited him to have lunch with us in Chinatown. He accepted, lighting up a cigarette as we passed through the smoke-free Markets.

We paid $5 for a plateful of various Asian foods, the same variety we had each chosen for ourselves, and took it back to him at our table.

I don’t know how long it had been since he had seen a plate so heavily laden, but his expression was as if we had just given him a cup of water and set the table on fire. He ate like a starved puppy.

At one point, when my girlfriend had left the table for a while, he leaned towards me with a look of urgency.

“If you ever get married,” he mumbled, “Don’t go halves in business shares with your wife because otherwise she will leave you when you’re 42, she’ll take your kids and you’ll have nothing and never see them again.”

He stared at me as if he had just revealed a government secret. He kept staring.

“Is that what happened to you?” I asked awkwardly. He nodded.

“See that?” He was pointing to the Stock Exchange building.

“You used to work there?” Another nod. “How long since you’ve seen your kids?” He shook his head, muttering unintelligibly at his noodles.

His was a long story, conveyed in two short sentences.

I didn’t know how much of it to believe, or if it mattered. I got the feeling it was true, even if it was not factual.

When I was a kid I would tell my brother to shut up whenever he silently pulled faces at me, and he would say “But I’m not saying anything!”

The world had been pulling faces at this guy for a long time.

It must have been loud inside his head.

Originally published in Godfings (2011).

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~ by Daniel Townsend on February 12, 2013.

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