The Tao of Odds and Ends
© Barrry Kavanagh 2003
"Y'know something? It's stupid to grit your teeth or growl or
cry or stick your fingernails into your skin or sniffle or try to come up
with things in your imagination, or to amuse yourself. It's better to be
blank. How can you stand to see thousands of people go by, and cars go by,
if you're a crying infant, or if you're going to let the boredom get to
you? That's wrong. Just let it all happen, don't expect to be interested
by what you see, and don't get tied to it, the world's not a soft
teddy-bear, y' know. It bites back! And there's no need to be upset, just
let it all roll off you. Money, sex, music, nature, TV, all of those are
impossible. They're so far removed from me, now. How could I compare those
things to what I see? Should I picture myself copulating with a traffic
warden on a police car bonnet? Should I imagine grass and trees growing in
the middle of the road overnight, blotting out the traffic lights and
carbon monoxide? Y'know, my mother's face is impossible. I can picture two
or three different possible faces that could be hers, ha ha. I looked at
my own face, a reflection through the shutters in the dark glass of the
shop window, and I didn't see anyone I recognized. I was glad I had my
woolly hat, my possession. It cuts my face off from… from what? 'Is my
face that shape?' I said to myself, ha ha. I looked at the beard growing.
I coughed. My throat was sore. My eyes and legs were heavy. I gazed about
me and I saw little people in coloured robes, inside the raindrops. But
they weren't there, y'know. I was looking at the raindrops too closely. It
was the spectrum. There was a rainbow in the sky."
I've been talking for quite a while. Did I get a bit of trouble from my head there for a second? I… Oh… Where's the Minister of the Waves? Where's that fish gone? He's not here!
Wait! Oh, is that him? He seemed to have vanished. But he's here, alright, in his chosen spot, in the gutter at the side of the road.
"Is that yourr storry?" he asks.
"No, there's more."
"The police came by and started poking me. 'Waste of space!' they said. They pulled me to my feet, knocking over my cup. The rainwater flowed out of it, and they scattered my coins with their boots. I dropped to my knees and scrambled around on the ground, putting all the pieces I could find into my pocket. Then, and only then, I stood up. They gestured to the street. 'Move on.' So I went away. Their eyes were on me as I went.
"Queues for hostels begin at five, as stated on the photocopy. I was at the random hostel of my choice, with all sorts of people, old drunks, bewildered families, all kinds. When I reached the top of queue, the lady who was running the show said 'You - what age are you?'
"'Nineteen,' I said, which was and is correct.
"'You can't come in here! This hostel is only for people over twenty-five! You're too young!'
"'Oh… Please, do y'know, is there a hostel for the under twenty-fives?'
"'Gah!' she said, like a startled goose. 'No such place!' She handed me a piece of paper with a number scrawled on it. 'The Out of Hours Service!' she said."
"Rreallly. A starrtlled goose, you say. Fascinating. Now, if onlly I knew what a goose is."
"'Whose out of hours service?' I wanted to know.
"'Homeless Persons Unit, of course!' she said.
"I went to a phone box. I was afraid it would eat some of my precious coins, but I put them in anyway, and dialed the number for the Homeless Persons Unit, those redbrick building people. It was engaged for ages and ages, then eventually I got through, to a very faint, distant voice. It was a foreign woman, y'know?"
"She said 'Yoo mus go to ze Ni'light Cent-err weetch open at ate oak lock, yeh? Ze Out of Ours Serveece weel ass-ess yoo zere, yeh?'
"So I said 'Oh, yes, yes, yes,' ha ha. She told me what street the Nightlight Centre was on, and I understood that very clearly. Of course I did, 'cause if I never got to the Nighlight Centre, my story would end here.."
"Woulld it?" says the Minister, a bit too enthusiastically for my liking.
"…No, it would pick up from somewhere else… some place else…"
"I got to the Nightlight Centre around opening time, eight o'clock. From the street it looked like a garage, like a place you'd go to get a car repaired."
"I went into the little office, where there could have been mechanics drinking cups of tea, but there was a woman there in black, all in black, black shoes, black tights, black pinstripe skirt, a black pinstripe jacket tight over her breasts, and small black-rimmed spectacles. Her hair was long and silky and black. She was a social worker, y'know. She was sitting at a table, with a file full of papers open in front of her.
"'Oh. Hello,' she said, cautiously, but friendly enough.
"'I've been referred here… by the Out of Hours Service,' I announced.
"'Yes. We have young people staying here,' she said, taking off
"'I'm sorry,' said the woman in black. I turned around to look at her. What was she on about?
"'There is no placement for you,' she said. I didn't know that word. It was unfamiliar to me. 'There are only fourteen places here,' she said, then.
"So it was all bad news. I was about to trudge off, when she got up from her chair and motioned to me that I was to sit down. The only free seat was very low to the ground, but I sat there and stared at my knees. She got on the phone and rang up loads and loads of places, trying to get me a bed, which was nice of her.
"I had a little drifty rest, then. I saw the woman in black take off her pinstripe jacket and pull out one of her breasts, and feed a fat little baby, whose hand pawed at the side of the breast as it sucked and sucked, guzzling the milk. And the next thing I knew, she was standing over me. She was wearing her suit. I'd been dreaming. Awake now, I finally noticed her blouse was red, not black.'I'm sorry,' she said again. 'You'll have to go.'
"'It's the rules. Anyone who doesn't get a bed by two, has to leave. It's two now.'
"'Eh?' I repeated.
"'You can go to the police station.'
"I jumped up when I heard these words and said I'd go there, definitely, I assured her of it, and I said goodbye, and thanks, and all the rest of it, and she went back to her table and tidied up her file of papers and drained her coffee and tied her black silky hair very tightly behind her head.
"…But I didn't go to the cop shop 'cause I don't trust those police. I didn't like what they said to me earlier, they seemed kind of threatening, y'know. With their eyes on me like that.
"So, that's why I'm on the streets tonight. Sleeping here, where maybe alcoholists on their way to or from the pub can come and give me money from their bank accounts, ha ha. So I put myself here in a sitting position but I didn't know if I'd actually sleep."