I was walking home tonight from my youth group with a couple of friends tonight, and we stopped off at our local shop to buy some food and drinks before heading on home. In general good spirits, we walked on past the off-license beside the store, talking and laughing amongst ourselves. And that’s when we spotted him.
A lone figure, slumped on the floor beside the off-license wall, his head hanging down and his cap covering his eyes, a bottle hanging loosely between his fingers and slowly swaying, dangerously close to falling and smashing round him. His dejected figure sunk into the wall and his dark clothes seemed to make him blend into his background, so that the people passing him by into the off-license ignored him as if he was as unimportant as the cigarette stubs and broken shards of glass around him.
I was tempted to walk on- it was cold, and my parents wanted me home. But something about his figure made me stop in my tracks, as if he was screaming out for help without even lifting his head. A thought flashed across my mind- what if he was someone’s grandfather, father, husband? I couldn’t just leave him there on the side of the street in his condition, I couldn’t hold that guilt above my head. So I detached myself from the group and slowly made my way towards him.
When I reached the door of the off-license, I bent down so I was on level with the man. He didn’t look up, staring intently at the cracks in the pavement, lost in his own world.
‘Excuse me,’ I ventured, and his head snapped up to look at me as he suddenly realised me standing there. I got down lower so we were on eye-level and asked, ‘Are you okay?’
He stared at me blankly for a few seconds, his mouth moving but no sound coming out. I placed my hand on his knee and asked again softly. His eyes were wide with fear and confusion, bright and alive compared to his wrinkled, sunken and tired face. His eyes began to well up with tears and he finally murmured, ‘I-I don’t know..’.
His voice cracked on the last word and his face seemed to droop from the pain, his eyes revealing true confusion and pain. His breath stank of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol, and he was clearly not in his right mind, as he took my hand and pleaded me to take him home. Instantly I felt obliged to do whatever I could to help this poor man, ignored by all those who passed by. This poor old man who subjected himself to drinking outside alone on a saturday night, whose eyes held so much pain yet were ignored by everyone. I took hold of his hand in both of mine and promised to get him home safely.
My youth leader and I helped to calm him down and eventually called an ambulance to come pick him up and check on him. An hour later we got him into the ambulance and they drove him off to the hospital to run some tests. I’ll probably never see that man again, but those eyes will stick with me forever. Those eyes screaming out for help, so grateful to be noticed. So this is for you Bobby, and I sincerely hope the pain stops soon and you are safe. I hope life treats you well from now on, and I hope you remember me in the morning, because I won’t forget you.