Saturday, 1 December 2007
Fleeting Glimpses of Other People's Lives
Flicking through the pages of my notebook I came across this observation from a few weeks ago. From the tram window I saw a man walking across Piccadilly Gardens. What caught my eye were the two angry weals running diagonally across his face from chin to ear, as though he'd been whipped with a cane or stick. His face itself was pockmarked and ruddy, his eyes bleary; and his stumbling gait made me think he was probably one of Manchester's homeless winos. His crumpled clothing, that he had probably slept in and/or fallen over in, bore out the overall appearance; but in each hand he was carrying a pristine white carrier bag, each bearing the smart emblem of the Royal Marines. The contrast could not have been starker and I suddenly felt very sad staring at this shambolic figure. Had he picked up his bags and contents in HM Forces' career office; perhaps determined, in his disordered state, to make a fresh start? I wondered whether the recruitment officers had been kind to him or whether they had scoffed and took the piss after encouraging him to get fit and join up before sending him on his way.
I was filled with a sense of this man's vulnerability: who had whipped him across the face? As he shambled across the square I could see swaggering chavs pointing him out and I was reminded of a wounded antelope being circled by lions waiting for the moment when one of them went in for the kill.
The tram soon passed and the scene went, as they all do. I wondered what my response should be to what I had seen and how it had made me feel. Should I shrug, tell myself to get over it, with a comment that life is tough? Perhaps it might prompt me to make a donation to a homelessness charity this Christmas. Or perhaps I'll forget, as I get carried away with the seasonal preparations, only to come back to my notes, or this post in the new year and feel a moment's guilt - which, like the tram, will soon pass.