Strangers In The Night
I was on the dole and signed up for all the free courses I could get. A few weeks into an an A level English Lit course that I was about to give up for something else and I’m walking home from the evening class. It’s unseasonably cold and damp. The forecasted squally showers, whatever that means, grow into heavy rain. I still have a fair distance to walk and despite the weather and lack of employment I’m reasonably content if a little sodden.
Turning into a side street I come across an old bloke sat in an electric wheelchair – he‘s going nowhere fast. He’s just sat there, miserable, wet and very stationary. ‘You ok?’ I offer. Of course he’s not ok you plank. No-one chooses to sit in the rain, in the dark, in the street, in a wheelchair.
‘One two, one two’, and he points to the underside of the clunky great device, ‘one two’.
A few more questions are greeted with this stock answer, ‘one two, one two’ and accompanying hand gestures. It’s like having a conversation with a roadie at a stadium gig. I glean, through this semi binary dialogue, thumbs up/down, nods and smiles, that the wheelchair battery is flat and he’s been sat in the pissing rain for twenty minutes for help to come along. And now here I am, the help, unsuitably dressed in a flimsy sweatshirt that was more drip drip than drip dry and trainers where flippers would have been more appropriate. The Tesco bag I’m clinging to offers little protection to a tatty copy of Macbeth, a few scribbled on A4s and a biro so are given a home in a nearby bin. Following a pointing finger I set about pushing him home.
I realise pretty quickly that the wheels are locked at an angle which means we have to travel in little three yard semi circles and then drag it round a bit to continue. This could take a while. He’s a big fella and the wheelchair’s not exactly featherlight. So we’re one twoing along, uphill with locked wheels, pissing rain lashing our faces - him bored and frustrated, me shattered and sick of making all the conversation. Arriving eventually at his bungalow I start to reflect on this curious road trip. I’ve been a good Samaritan but it’s no more than any normal decent person would have done. Poor old bastard must have hated every minute of this – stuck in his little numerical world reliant on a stranger to get him home. Our little one way chats have soon ground to a halt much like his transport. Once or twice he nods off, not surprising really judging by the time. It’s taken us four hours to finally arrive at his bungalow and we enter it like battle weary soldiers returning home from the front. I haul him in and collapse on the sofa, soaked and sore. I regain some sort of normality to my bursting lungs and ask if he needs anything or could I ring anyone. He points to a drawer and there’s a tin in it which I hand to him. He opens it and it’s full of folded notes and he offers me a few. 'Don't be daft mate, I don't want your money' I say. He bursts into tears and 'one two, one two, one twos’' a bit. I say I'd better go and he offers his hand and then gives me a thumbs up. I leave him sniffling in his living room and jog home in 10 minutes despite the fatigue that engulfs me.
I mean to go back the next day to check on the bloke but never do, nor the next day or any day in fact. And I regret that.
I enrolled on a computer course soon after. It was only a few streets away from where I was living and it finished at one. Or two. One or two anyway.