A few weeks ago, I was in the town centre for the Farmer’s Market. I was dressed in my full morris dancing band kit and handing out flyers for our upcoming workshop. I knew I looked pretty unusual, and that knowledge was only strengthened by the way that people looked at me. They seemed to visibly shy away as I approached them. One of the morris dancers, who was with me, even commented: “It’s like we’re trying to mug them or something!”.
After about half an hour of this, I really needed to sit down. The town centre is always packed on a Saturday morning, so I wasn’t hopeful of finding a seat once I had made my way through the long queue and bought myself a drink. The coffee shop itself was packed out, but I spotted one seat at a table outside. As I approached it, I looked at the man who was sitting there. His greasy, black hair was scraped back and over his bald patch. He was wearing a dirty, grey raincoat tied over his ample waist, with pudgy hands clasped in front of him. Ancient, battered glasses sat on his nose. I looked at him and my first instinct was to turn away – he didn’t look “safe”. However, I was getting pretty desperate by this point, so I decided to bite the bullet.
“Would you mind if I sat here?” I said, tentatively.
“No problem, of course!” he said. “Would you like a poem?”
Oh dear, here we go, I thought. Then I thought again. Here was a fellow writer offering me some of his work. So I said:
“Yes, why not?”
Having ascertained that I would like him to write about the market, he produced a biro and a pad of lined paper and began to write. Being respectful, I didn’t look over his shoulder while he wrote (something I hate people doing to me) and I sat, sipping my drink and awaiting the result. Here is what he wrote:
I began to read politely, but as I read, I realised what a gift Terry was giving me. OK, so it wasn’t Shakespeare, but it expressed so much of what I love about the market. I loved it all the more for its spelling mistakes and bad grammar, because it obviously came straight from his heart.
Once I’d read it and complimented him on it, I asked how long he’d been writing poetry. For about seven years, he said, ever since his nervous breakdown. The doctors told him it would help. He still has problems (he lives in sheltered accommodation) but the poetry had given him a new lease of life. Ever since, he has sat in the cafe and written poems for anyone who crosses his path.
This made me think. Here I was, dressed in a ridiculous costume, having a break from being treated like a mugger by passers-by at the market. And here was Terry, sitting at the cafe and writing poems. I knew, from the way he looked and my own first instincts about him, that he must get that “are you safe?” look from people all the time. It is his daily life, whereas I could go home, get changed and the problem would be gone. Yet, here he sat, giving his creativity away for free.
Soon, it was time for me to leave. On impulse, I reached into my purse and gave him a couple of pounds. I wanted to pay him for his time, his simple, beautiful poem and the insight he had given me into my own life. Tears came into his eyes. He grabbed my hand and held it between his own.
“Thank you!” he said, “Thank you so much, that’s really kind of you. You’re my angel!”
Whereupon, he sat down and penned me another poem, entitled “Angels” (see below).
So, next time you see someone like Terry and you’re not sure whether he/she is safe or not, why not take a chance and talk to them? Obviously, we all need to be safe, but you may well find someone or something which you will treasure. I know I did.