26.2.09

Devotions

I first saw him in the morning when I was going to get the newspaper. Walking up Smith Street from the east, the direction of the City, with a cup of takeaway coffee in one hand and a quilted maroon windcheater dangling from the other. A black bag slung from one shoulder. His many layers of ragged clothing all khaki coloured now from age and dust, his trousers hanging down so low I could see his pubes, socks but no shoes on his feet, his eyes protuberant and staring, his face wind or sun reddened, his hair and beard matted and wild. It wasn't until mid-morning, when I went out to find the source of the strangely pitched moaning I'd been hearing, that I realised he had taken up his station on the footpath outside a building opposite and a little down the street from mine. Strangely pitched: I could not tell if they were sounds of pain or of some other emotion, rage or fear perhaps, perhaps even a kind of ecstasy. I was in and out all day so had plenty of chances to observe him. I feel sure he was watching me too, that he recognised me from that first early meeting on Smith Street. Each time I paused to listen to his groans, they morphed imperceptibly into chanted obscenities; and then, when I moved away, took on a derisive, almost contemptuous tone. At one point, in the news agency again, buying manilla folders, I told the woman behind the counter about him; she suggested calling the police and when I said I couldn't do that, her boss said to try Social Services at Ashfield Council. As I returned home with my folders, he was holding in one hand an unopened packet of the cheap 99c biscuits you get in the supermarket while making mystic passes above it with the other. It was then that I thought I had no right to intervene in whatever it was he was doing; and at the same time noticed he was surrounded by food and drink - a packet of pita bread, a 1.5 litre bottle of coke, a can of lemonade, two bananas, a bag of other fruit, a croissant ... towards evening his moaning ceased and when I looked out at about six, he had gone, leaving behind some shoes, the black bag, all of the food and drink, a smart blue blanket somebody must have given him, the takeaway coffee cup ... however, this morning just before ten, driving to Strathfield, I saw him again, sitting on the steps of the old Post Office just around the corner - perhaps he slept the night in the spacious portico there - with yet another cup of takeaway coffee, another can of lemonade and several sandwiches and buns. He still had the maroon quilted jacket but was otherwise bereft of possessions. I was away during the middle part of the day and, when I returned this afternoon, he had gone; but the food and the drink and the abandoned things remain, those in my street and those outside the old Post Office around the corner, like offerings on an altar to some rough god who passed this way, briefly troubling the consciences of the good people of Summer Hill before travelling on to other parishes, other obeisances.


1 comment:

Matt Dioguardi said...

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Well done.