I recall some time ago,in the 20’s I was working in the city when the news was full of reports about the pandemic spread of Corona Virus here in Australia,stay at home,don’t touch your face,self isolation etc. I guess I was lucky working in an essential service industry and as such was allowed to continue travelling into the city to carry out my governmental work. Yes I got scared of what to do to stay safe and at lunchtime started by leaving the office to get fresh air and sunshine and distance myself from other commuters,I got some inspiration take my own sandwiches from home and eat in the park just at the end of the street.
The next day I brought along my corn beef and pickle sandwiches and a small thermos of black coffee. The day was sunny, no wind Autumn is like that and at lunchtime I found myself wondering through the flowers and shrubs near a small pond covered in flowering water lilies,I decided this is an ideal spot to eat lunch there was only one bench seat and to my dismay it was partly occupied by an elderly man with his rolled up blanket and a battered green bag his clothes were tidy but his old hat seemed a bit large for his head. As I approached he gathered his belongings and moved to the end of the bench, I took this it to be a kindly offer to share his seat he appeared non threatening so I sat and stared at the pond and water Lillie’s.
I poured out a coffee and whilst waiting for it to cool pulled out my sandwiches and said to the man what a lovely day he seemed pleased to be acknowledged and we chattered some more all the time his eyes travelled to the food, I offered him a coffee which he drank eagerly, time had slipped away quickly must get back to work, he looked hungry so I offered him my sandwich and I noticed he had no socks on, I asked where he lived he replied mostly here in the park these days.
My mind was full of questions about this lonely person, that night I cut extra sandwiches and more coffee to take to the park hoping he might be there and that he might share his story with me. Lunch time came very slowly that day but when it did I rushed to the pond in the park I guess we were both looking forward to each other’s company again,we quickly ate our lunch ,eager to chat. I won’t disclose his name but for the purposes of this story I will call him Sunny. He seemed keen to tell his adventures in life, he was born in the dusty northern parts of Victoria in a very small wheat belt town, six houses in total, a weatherboard one room school,four grain silos and a railway track beside a road less traveled.
He never knew his mum or dad they died in a home fire and his dads brother took him in, he never got to know him much as he travelled a lot shearing and when home he seemed very tired and slept most of the time, his wife a big woman never hugged him or even seemed to like him she was to busy washing ironing for neighbours and baking bread and cutting wood for the firebox.
School was a torment other kids teased him and told him his mum and dad ran away because he was so ugly.
He spent a lot time on his own down by the old railway dam watching the wildlife there, he tried catching the little green frogs and tadpoles, staying late till sunset he saw the kangaroos come in to drink and saw the joeys jump in and out of mothers warm pouch whilst the big bucks stood guard.
When he was 15 he left school and worked for a while on the farm just out of town but that job did not last long now with no work and the drought it forced him to jump the grain train and later he found himself in the big city with nowhere to live, he now wished he had gotten a better education but too late now.
He got some work in a factory this gave him some money and he could afford a room with an elderly couple but he had to eat alone read the old newspapers and do his own clothes washing.
He lost his job after three years and found himself on the streets again.
He started to look unkept and grubby, why couldn’t he get a good job and live like others he sees every day walking past him. Back to work for me my head still of wonderment and thirsty to learn more.
It is the end of Tuesday and we agreed to meet each day at noon.
Wednesday noon sun still blessing us both,Sunny agreed to tell me about surviving on the streets, I asked about being cold he said yes for a while you feel the cold then somehow you get accustomed to it; you can always find a corner away from the wind where the sun is shining or a doorway to shelter from the rain, see that Pandanus plant near the pond with overhanging fronds that’s where I sleep And keep my belongings, I also sleep on this bench and get warm and dry my clothes here when the suns out. Opps I am going to be late back to work, so much to hear and learn.
Thursday, Sky a little greyer to day but I have a special lunch home made meat pie and a large Apple pie, Sunny’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He had made friends with other homeless people and learnt how to make money from passes by, some had a dog for people to pat and drop some money into a food bowl,one did chalk drawings on the concrete pavement, others recited poetry and others simply begged.
I was very good at drawing , said Sunny using a grey lead pencil on scraps of paper I loved drawing people’s faces, the Salvos gave me some pencils and a sketch pad one day and I sat in the street drawing a persons face, got quite a crowd some times I used to get a fiver from some and a couple of bob from kids, look I will show you some he opened his tattered bag and several pages fell onto the ground and I was spell bound at what I saw and asked if I could buy one.
You can get lots of food from bins late at night and wash from the garden taps he told me. Leaving a bucket of water in the sun you can get hot water to wash in. If you are quick clothes can be obtained from charity bins, shoes and socks are harder to come by. Some of the churches put on a great meal on Sundays and its there you find friends with even worse stories than mine, I think I am very lucky really.
Sunny seemed a bit ill that day feeling feverish and a dry throat so I left the last of the thermos of coffee with him hoping to comfort him during the nighttime.
Friday came and I was anxious to catch up with Sunny and lunchtime arrived I grabbed our lunch and hurried to the park, Sunny was no where to be seen his blanket and tattered bag was neatly stored on the bench, I waited for nearly half an hour where upon a parks gardener come up to me, and said I was worried I wouldn’t find you, he said he had observed Sunny and I becoming friends and having lunch together lately. Anxiously I asked had he seen Sunny he looked shaken as he told me an Ambulance came early this morning but it was to late, but he said he had found a parcel marked to me, I nervously opened it up Sunny had drawn a picture of me on a sheet of brown paper signed from “Sunny to my dearest friend”
I still ask myself.
Who was the teacher and who was the student?
Daryl Morrow 2020