Today’s things are: crisps, chips, beans
A Heart and a Packet of Crisps.
With his hat set on his head at a jaunty angle, he was ready to face the day.
‘What will the day bring?’ he wondered and bounded out the front door.
He waved at his neighbour who was emptying rubbish into the brown wheelie bin perched permanently outside the front door. The neighbour didn’t wave back, only stalked back into his house and slammed the door.
Shrugging the unfriendly response aside he continued walking into town.
He decided to treat himself. His breakfast usually consisted of a couple hobnobs with a cup of tea, but today he was going to have a fry up.
He walked into the Rusty Kettle Café. Doris came over wearing her usual easy-wipe plastic apron and a bored expression on her face.
“Egg, Chips and beans please,” He said, pleasantly.
“Want toast with that, love?” Doris replied.
“No, Thank you.”
“It comes with a mug of tea or coffee, which do you want?” Doris asked.
Remembering what the tea was usually like he responded: “That’s OK, Can I have a glass of Orange juice instead?”
“OK,” Doris said and scribbled the order down on a grey pad of paper.
In a short while, he was tucking into one of his favourite meals.
He took huge pleasure from the salty savouriness of the flavours and was grateful that he managed to avoid getting any baked bean juice or tomato ketchup on his favourite blue pullover.
When he went up to pay he also bought a packet of Salt and Vinegar flavoured crisps. He wasn’t hungry, but they will do for lunch later.
Having enjoyed his meal, he practically skipped and jumped out of the café. He had a lumpy middle-aged figure that couldn’t really be described as lithe, but he was rather nimble on his feet. That came from going to Salsa classes every Thursday evening down at the Civic centre. Madame Carmen had said his moves were quite adroit of his age.
He walked down to the park and sat on a bench by the duck pond. There wasn’t a lot of people about, which suited him fine. He felt nervous around people unless he knew them.
He sat and contemplated his life. Forty years old and not a lot to show for it. He’d inherited his parent’s old terraced house and that had saved him from wandering the streets after his wife had kicked him out. How long ago was that now? Seven? No nearer Eight years ago now. Just then he smelt the rather unpleasant odour of old seat and coming out of his thoughts saw a tramp sit down on the bench next to him. He was wearing an old anorak and fingerless gloves. The tramp held out a hand.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t any money on me. I don’t even have any bread to feed the ducks today. I do have a packet of crisps, you can have them If you like?”
The tramp smiled at him.
“Thank you, my friend. That’s the first kind thing anyone has done for me this week. You’re all heart.”
The tramp began crunching on the crisps and then continued talking splattering crisp crumbs all over his coat. “Mmm, Salt and Vinegar, my favourite. What’s your name then?” asked the Tramp.
“George, George Harper. What’s yours?” George replied.
“You know, no one has ever asked me that before? Not since I’ve been on the streets. Bert, the name’s Bert. Hodges is my surname. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you alright? You looked a bit sad when I sat down next to you.”
George found himself telling Bert all about himself. His wife who had chucked him out when he’d had a breakdown and been discharged from work. They’d given him a pension but it wasn’t a lot to live on. His wife ended up getting a job to pay the mortgage and then decided that she didn’t want to share her life with him anymore. He remembered her screaming at him, calling him a useless waste of space. He went back to live with his parents in their tiny house. He slept in the same room he had grown up in, it made it feel he had regressed back into childhood. Then he lost both his parents. His dad died from Lung cancer and then his Mum from pneumonia. If it hadn’t been for the Samaritans he wasn’t sure he’d have been around much longer. They’d suggested the Salsa classes that he so looked forward to every Thursday.
It was strange, All the terrible things that had happened to him, he’d never really told anyone, not even the Samaritans about everything, and yet here he was telling them all to a complete stranger. Probably because he was a complete stranger.
Just then he noticed his neighbour again walking along with his dog on its lead. He smiled and said “Good Morning.”
“Don’t you talk to me. Why don’t you get a job? You scrounger. I can’t bear people like you. You’re just a drain on society” He continued walking and dragging along his dog.
“Someone you know? He wasn’t very friendly, was he?” Said Bert.
“No. It’s probably because I reported him to the RSPCA because I could hear his dog whining and he never took it for a walk. They fined him. It seems to have done the trick though, he’s taking it for a walk now. Also, he doesn’t understand that I don’t work because of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I worked for the fire brigade, you see. I had to go into a school that had burnt down. A boarding school. Not all the kids had managed to escape. I just couldn’t get over what I’d seen.”
Bert patted George on the shoulder. “I don’t suppose you’ve told your neighbour that?”
“No, I haven’t wasted my breath.”
Bert stood up and grabbed Georges arm with surprising strength. “Come with me, George.”
Bert led George out of the park and over to a top of the range Mercedes that was parked out of the way.
“What’s this? Not your car, surely?” George asked.
“I will let you in on my little secret,” Bert said. “I am not really a tramp at all. I just like to carry out a social experiment. I like to see how people treat me when I can’t possibly be any help to them. Sometimes people give me money, I always hand that in to the local shelter, I’m not a fraudster. No one has ever sat with me before and asked my name, or given me their packet of crisps, or told me all about themselves. Never before. You are a very special man. Despite all you have been through and the way your neighbour treats you, you still showed me kindness. I think that deserves something. How would you like to come work for me? I need someone I can trust.”
“A Job. I don’t know. I’m not sure I can do anything. Why should you care about the hand that life has dealt me? It wasn’t your fault.”
“No, but I see what has happened to you as a great injustice, and life should be balanced. I want to restore the balance by giving you the justice you deserve. What do you say?”
George didn’t know quite was to say. He shook Bert’s hand, smiled and got into the car.
George Harper is now deputy director of the Have a Heart Charity. They sponsor unsung heroes that have fallen on hard times and see that they get the treatment that they need and help them back on their feet.
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 28/September/2018