Sunday, 21 February 2010

God is nowhere IV

The snow falls as it did a few weeks ago but it seems to have lost its magic.
The snow falls and now we disregard it.

If a man falls should we do the same?

Last night, I drove out to pick my husband up from the station. Turning the corner into the side-street I noticed an elderly man lying on the floor, carrier bags spilling out shopping around him. Assuming that he had just fallen, I waited a moment but nothing happened. So I got out of the car and walked over to see if there was anything I could do.

‘I can’t get up. I’m lying here and I can’t get up.’

Moving closer to give him a hand it became apparent that there was more than one reason why he couldn’t get up. The first glance was replaced by the noticing that his clothes were a hotch-potch of styles, he wore no socks with worn black leather shoes and his ‘shopping’ comprised of empty boxes and bags stuffed into more bags. He was one of our street people in a clever disguise; wearing a veneer of respectability that would allow him access to station platforms, bus stations and other places of shelter without attracting attention; on a night like this a formidable survival technique.

Except – ‘I can’t get up. I’m lying here and I can’t get up.’

Except – he refused my hand.

So, I got back in the car and waited; watched taxis come and wait and go; watched travellers appearing out of the station at twelve minute intervals; watched an eco-warrior unfold a bike out of a bag and cycle off; watched Saturday night revellers on their way into the city centre; watched a man lying on the pavement who couldn’t get up; realised I had no way of knowing how long he had already been there.

I got back out of the car; this was making me ill. Negotiated with him to collect his ‘shopping’ together and to get him at least to sitting up. Agreed. He took my hand in a hand of translucent pale skin over strong bones but with no flesh to pad the palms or the fingers. He took my hand and kissed it and I experienced what cold really means. To be so cold and still alive seemed impossible; not impossible to imagine what would happen if he didn’t get moving soon.

My husband appeared, and between us we managed to persuade him to move again, against the wall of the office building; a little more sheltered but still ‘I can’t get up’. I went into the station for help; a shrug of the shoulders and ‘The police station’s the other side of the Town Hall, not far, you can walk- if you want’.

I did want. The Police Station was, at least, manned. ‘We’ll send someone around.’

Back to the station, my husband was sitting next to him, and had managed to strike up a conversation, man to man. He gave an unconvincing story of living in places that are either end of our district. But at least there was life in him; was it simply that our presence reminding him that he was alive?

We waited, the police did not arrive. We waited; taxi drivers chatted over thermos cups of coffee, having seen it all before, no doubt; We waited: travellers travelled. We waited.

‘You do realise we will end up taking him home’. My husband commented.

I don’t know whether it was the fear of ‘capture’ but this comment drew a sudden surge of energy in the man and he struggled up the wall to a standing position.

A mumbling under the breath as he picked up his bags, shakily straightened up again and gathered his thoughts enough to comment; ‘I’m up, I’m up and you two can f*** off!’. My husband laughed, ‘That’s more like it! At least he’s on the move, what more can we do?’

What more could we do, except pray? As we watched him zig zag into the back streets behind the station; as the snow began to fall; as more taxis, full of people with homes to go, came and went; the question drove home with us - what more could we do?

This morning I stopped the car to take a photo of some ponies in a nearby field A passer-by remarked ‘Poor things’.

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