The Tao of Odds and Ends

Excerrpt: The Ministerr of the Waves (parrt thrree)

© Barrry Kavanagh 2003

Tao    Butterrflly

"After what must have been an hour of this, standing around with all these people, and noisy children and babies, the room getting really hot with body heat and the carbon dioxide everyone was breathing 
   out - "

" - Hrrr!" interrupts the Minister of the Waves. "Rrevollting!"

" - And all the windows being shut and barred, and all the voices babbling with people speaking, but not to one another, yeah, after about an hour, it was like I was a fly, the kind of fly that's so small you just kill by squishing between two fingers."

"What arre you tallking about?"

"I was struggling. But before I could scream out loud, though, I found myself at the head of the queue, at an old desk, with some vandal's carvings on it, like it had come from some antiquated primary school, y'know. The man sitting at this desk didn't look happy. There was sweat running down his face. His shirt was just a big sweaty rag. 'I have nowhere to stay,' I said. I came right out with it.

"'Okay sir, let me tell you right away you can get a social welfare payment here, which will pay for your accommodation in a hostel.' This was his announcement.

"'Right, I'll need that then, because I've no money.' So it was like, please hand over the money, mister.

"'Okay sir, I can give you the payment if you have some evidence that you stayed in a hostel.' He started grinding his teeth. Why, I dunno. Maybe the job pressure was getting to him.

"'Evidence? I haven't stayed in a hostel, yet.' I had no idea why he was calling me sir. A nothing like me. A squished fly, ha ha.

"'Okay sir, you need to bring evidence, like a receipt or something, to get the payment.' Grind, grind.

"'I can't get a receipt until I stay in a hostel, can I?'

"'Okay sir, stay in a hostel tonight and come back here tomorrow morning with a receipt.' Grind, grind.

"'But I've no money to stay in a hostel tonight!' I said.

"Precious evidence, Minister of the Waves, sir, ha ha! If only I could stay in a hostel - then I could get the evidence required to get money to stay in a hostel!

"He said 'Okay sir, here is a piece of paper with the addresses of some hostels.' Grind, grind.

"'It's a photocopy.'

"'Okay sir, I know it's a photocopy.' Grind, grind, grind, grind.

"When I left the redbrick building and went back to the river I was struck by the glittering glass of the Civic Offices on the opposite quay. From this distance, it all fit into the palm of my hand. Weird."

"Yes, it must be verry weirrd to have hands," is the only comment from the Minister of the Waves.

"I had to wait until five, which, according to the photocopy, is the time to start queuing for places in the hostels. I picked a hostel off the list, just at random, to go there at five, if I could get some money together. Then I was hungry. So I had two problems. I needed money for accommodation, and money for food.

"I found a nice place to sit down and beg. Not on the footbridge, there was that old man. I left him to it. My spot was in off a footpath, at a spacious, covered entrance to a couple of shops, a grocers, and a jewellers.

"I'd go hoarse, like the old man, asking for spare change off people. I needed a sign that could do the begging for me. The trouble was, where was I going to get cardboard and a felt tip pen? I went in to the grocers. 'Have you a piece of cardboard I could write on ?'

"'Wha - ?'

"'A piece of cardboard, like off one of those cereal boxes,' I said, pointing at the breakfast cereals stacked so nicely on his shelf.

"He took me for someone who vandalizes cereal boxes, so he threw me out. He escorted me out. He didn't pick me up and throw me. Thank heaven for small mercies, as they say. 'Get out, ya waster!' he said.

"Then I spotted the alleyway, down the side of the jewellers. There was a fire escape, and some bins. I had a look. There were a few cardboard boxes. Probably the boxes of breakfast cereals are delivered in these bigger boxes! Anyway, there was enough dry cardboard for me to tear off a piece to make a decent sign.

"My sign was blank. I considered begging for lipstick or eyeliner, ha ha, anything that could be used to write my message. It started to rain.

"Two girls walked by, sharing an umbrella. Their hair wouldn't get wet. I wished I had an umbrella, forewarned is forearmed, as they say. Maybe they'd give me some eyeliner for my sign? I almost asked them, then I realize it'd sound crazy. No, it would, really… They were wearing eyeliner, though... I saw.

"I had to get out of the rain. Around the corner was a fast food place. The security guard looked at me funny, but I shuffled up to the counter to look like I was going to buy something. The Chinese girl behind the counter looked at me too, but not like she really saw me. I was just one of the hundreds of customers she had that day. But at least I was someone, not no one at all... I had an idea, then. I asked for a cup, just a cup. 'Please can I have an empty paper cup?' She handed it over, without questioning the non-transaction. No cola, no money, just the paper cup. Then I gestured to my rectangle of cardboard. I asked her for a pen. 'Just for a minute,' I said. There was a pen on the cash-till and she put it into my hand. Then she turned away and started talking Chinese to someone I couldn't see. Someone round the corner in the kitchen, frying fries, or burgering burgers, or the like. Then, I was really very hungry. I was going to faint. My eyes fell to the piece of cardboard, it said HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. 'I must have written those words just now,' I said to myself, ha ha. I waved and returned the pen with thanks. With gratitude, as they say.

"I was going to stay in there, out of the rain, with the smell of food, but the eyes of the security guard were on me, and this guy really was a hound, so I shuffled off out back again into the rain once more. Outside the doors of the grocers and the jewellers was a bit of shelter, as I said. I sat down, set up my sign and held out the cup. I stayed still and didn't move. I could see, through the corner of my eye, the hands on a clock in the jewellers' window. I forgot about food. I let the time pass, and the cup filled up with rain, and sometimes small coins dropped into it. I was cold.

"People walked past, very quickly. They were like raindrops. Their feet hit the pavement, and bounced off again just as soon. They were gone, and then, all of a sudden, there were more feet - different people - hit and bounce and gone, and then more…"


contact Barrry Kavanagh