I commented on his hat. It was a warm fleece beanie like the one I had pulled down tightly around my ears as protection from the chilly winds in the Bourke st Mall. I was impressed with the twin little LED lights imbedded in the material on the front of the hat.
“Yeah” he said “its a great hat to take night fishing. But I haven’t been fishing in a long time.”
I also guessed it would be handy at night living on the streets.
So began an easy banter as his quieter mate, sitting near bags containing their street sleeping necessities, looked on.
My beanied new companion’s nose looked like it had met the end of another fist maybe one time too many. I wasn’t completely surprised to hear he had been recently released from prison. In fact he told me he had spent nearly half his 45 years of life incarcerated.
The most recent stint was in the Remand Centre for 3 months for stealing a purse.
His first armed robbery was aged 13, involving a knife and paper boy.
He didn’t have too many complaints about his time in prison. In winter he was appreciative of being warm and fed three times a day. Currently he was struggling a bit with having to deal with the pain of the single remaining rotting tooth in his mouth. A short visit of three months in Remand Centre did not come with dental care.
He grinned saying “I don’t want to do another 5 year stint just to get this last tooth fixed!” He was cheerful and cheeky and obviously alive to new freedom even if it involved returning to a life on the streets.
‘Recently released’ (who I will now call RR) moved quickly to see what was on offer when I opened my little bag of buddhas. When I said they were gifts he cheekily asked for two.
The first Buddha he chose because its neck thread meant he could start wearing it immediately and the other was chosen because he liked how peaceful it looked. As we discussed its gentle, white form RR told me how his education had completely been delivered during his life in prison. He had learnt ceramics and pottery. The details he gave were enough for me to believe this part of his story.
As we warmed to each other’s company he grabbed a little pack of “Hand Warmers” from his bag. Someone had left the pack with two Snickers bars by his head overnight as he slept on the cold concrete in his alcove of choice.
He inquired, “Miss, would you mind reading the instructions for me. I want to know if it needs to go in a microwave.”
It’s strange being called Miss. I know it’s these guys way of showing respect especially if they want to ask for help with something. Even though I give my name and encourage them to use it, sometimes they naturally revert to Miss or Ma’am.
So I was sitting with another human beings basic need to stay warm in our chilly winter.
I felt deeply happy at the thought of a fellow Melbournian going to the trouble of buying hand warmers and leaving them anonymously in reach of of people sleeping on the streets. For this man their gift was a blessing.
RR was very pleased to hear all that needed to be done was to remove the outer plastic wrapper and shake the inner pack vigorously, after which delivery of 8 hours warmth to was promised where ever you placed the pack……back, pocket, socks etc.
to be continued……
Buddhas donated by Chris, Melbourne and Pasadadipa UK.