These last couple of weeks have been bound up in writing the final essays of my undergraduate degree and as a result the life-shots that I have witnessed have been bottled up to bursting point.
Perhaps the most heart-rending occurred a couple of weeks ago at Redfern station. I was on the Kings Cross platform, walking to a bench with my ear-phones in, when a slightish boy wandered past me in a peak cap. I think he might have said something to me through the ear-phones but I took him, to my discredit, for a lad and kept walking. Once seated, I had bent my head over some book when he wandered up to me.
I wish now that I had made more of an effort to remember him physically. The details are only an impression. It was an impression of neglect. He had acne. His face was thin and when he spoke it sounded like puberty had only let his voice drop half of the way. There was something anxious about his limbs, as though he was one of those cartoons who are surrounded by small double lines to denote frantic movement. He was completely devoid of aggression: there was no menace in the way he bore himself; it was almost as though the thought of threatening someone had never occurred to him (and if it did he would disregard it).
Of course, this impression is affected by what happened after he approached me (wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could recall our impressions moment by moment, without the retrospective colouring of memory, and explore how our prejudices develop [what it is exactly that triggers them: a peak cap or slouch, a tone of demand or smell of misfit]).
I took one of my ear-phones out just as he asked for change to catch a train home. I handed some coins over and, rather than disappear, he took a step aside to the payphone that stood next to the bench. He used the coins to make a call to his Mum.
I wrote down some grabs of this one-sided conversation.
Will I still be able to get new shoes today Mum?
Can you meet me at the station?
Can you still take me to the doctor?
What time are you meeting your friends?
OK, bye. Love you.
With that conversation any previous, rashly-concluded understanding that I had had was obliterated.
He was just a boy without enough money to call his mother.