"Move", he says. Now, given that I've already moved and by the way he's looking at me and speaking I figure this is the kinda guy who would probably as soon as crush my bones to dust as push me outta the way. You know there's bravado tough and then there's mongrel dog violent and this guy is one of the few I've seen who's the latter.
He's got a shaved head & is wearing dirty jeans, tho not the type that the swanky Surrey Hills kids are wearing these days, these jeans are actually dirty. Some shirt he's got on is hidden by a sky blue sweater that looks like it came from Best & Less 10 years ago. He's plodding more than walking through the store like he can only move one part of his body at a time & walking is it for the moment. He sees me as he speaks but looks straight through me and as he passes I notice blood coming out of his left ear and the smell of alcohol wafting around him. Later I also notice that the blood isn't the type you get from scratching the outside of your ear, it's clearly darker & from deeper inside his head. His eyes are glassy & only seem to focus on the object of his attention in a vague sort of way and the pupils stay the same size the entire time I'm looking at him. Despite this I get the feeling he'd having no trouble co-ordinating movement in my direction if he chose to.
"I need to get to 155 Missenden Rd. Do you know where that is?", he says to me, standing practically on top of me. Despite being a couple of inches shorter, the immanence of his prescence makes me feel like I'm being towered over.
My brow furrows, perhaps because I don't quite know what to make of this, or perhaps because I don't know what to make of my willingness to answer him rationally. "Well that's Missenden there", I reply, pointing to the road outside the window.
"Do you know where 155 is?", he asks, leaning further into my space.
"No man, I don't know where it is but that's Missenden Rd so if you walk along it I'm sure you'll find it." , I say starting to desire a quick exit but noting that my path to my dinner is blocked by this guy who seems less and less likely to move as time goes by.
"Look", he begins again, "I just got out of gaol an hour ago. I can make it worth your while. Can you show me where 155 is?"
"I don't know where it is but it's not a very long road so if you walk down it I'm sure you'll find it", I reply trying to maintain my ground as a mixture of exasperation and fear mingle in my hippocampus.
"I can make it worth your while.", he repeats unmoving.
I sigh, " Alright but I just have to get something to eat then we'll go for a walk & see if we can find it." Although I have no idea why I've agreed to this, he seems satisfied and I'm getting the impression that that is probably a good thing. I choose a suimin bowl without paying much attention to the flavour and proceed to the counter where the clerk makes me wait as he does something else before taking my money. The ex con behind me is restless & I'm sure everyone in the store is increasingly baffled by our sudden aquaintence. Upon leaving the store I turn to see that he hasn't followed me. He has returned to his original intention of getting something to eat & made his way back to the hotdog oven.
So I'm standing outside the store watching him move amongst the other customers, bumbling his way around the task of constructing a hotdog & paying for it. He tries to pay but some sort of complications ensue, I can see a line forming behind him & the store clerk trying to be efficient if not entirely patient. I'm sure this attack dog of a man is not being co-operative either. Time stretches out and still I'm standing there aware that this is my opportunity to leave this tense situation behind. But I don't. Part of me is concerned that if I do turn away he'll emerge from the shop & spot me and be unhappy about my departure. This would involve either me running away or walking & risking having him follow me, yelling at me down King St, probably both. I have to admit that it's my pride, my reputation that I am protecting by standing there, waiting. And, as I watch the combination of fear & frustration overtake the other people in the store, I realise that this guy is probably surrounded by people who would like nothing more than to run away & avoid helping him. It's quite likely that any person he asks for help an hour after being released would dump him and an altruisitc & painfully naive part of me refuses to allow me to be that person. So I wait for him to emerge.
As he comes out, hotdog in hand, I raise an eyebrow at him and he looks at me, seemingly haven forgotten who I am and I'm sure that that raised eyebrow is gonna earn me a fist in some delicate part of my body. But he does recognise me and his demeanour changes ever so slightly as we turn down Missenden Rd in search of 155.
Pointing at the next shop I say, " Well this one's 170 so 155 can't be too far." Even as I say this I recognise it as a way to defuse my own tension and as a spoken plea to the universe to make it true.
My new friend's mood has lifted considerably since obtaining the prospect of finding 155. His walk has more of a bounce to it & he is smiling contentedly as he begins to eat his hotdog. A sauce container, squeezed of it's life, is hurled to the gutter in the same aggressive manner with which this guy does everything.
He begins muttering and continues as we walk down the street, I assume he's not just talking to himself but he doesn't look at me at all. "Six years I've been sitting in a 4 by 8 cell", he says. "Six fucking years."
Now I'm not sure that anyone in this state sits in a 4 by 8 cell for six years so I'm not quite sure what to make of this grandstanding but hyperbole doesn't seem to be a trait I'd ascribe to this guy. "Must feel good to get out", I remark. To me such a comment seems obvious but it falls flat, it's an inane thing to say as a focus on the positive is outside his mental life it seems. I wonder why he was in gaol and I decide that, for the sake of my sanity, that I' don't want to know badly enough to ask.
I guide us across the pedestrian crossing, 155 clearly being on the other side of the road. He starts muttering again, cursing the individual we are apparently tracking down. As he continues to talk in short, largely unconnected sentences I gather that someone else has given him this address and that whoever lives there has something to do with him going to gaol.
"They're gonna be so fucking surprised to see me. Been in gaol for six fuckin years, Didn't think I was gonna get out but I did, earlier than I expected."
I'm starting to realise that I'm not helping this guy track down his old girlfriend or his mum. I feel like I've fallen into a scene from "Sexy Beast", next to me on Missenden Rd is my own private Ben Kingsley. I wonder if I become an accessory at this point.
"Shotgun at home. Do you know the damage a sawn off shot gun can do to a body at point blank range? Fuckin rip you apart." Now I KNOW this guy doesn't have a shotgun on him but I check out the corner of my eye anyway. I wonder if he'd be upset if the next time we meet I'm in the witness box.
At this point I've given up on making small talk and am diligently focusing on street numbers of which there are few at that point on Missenden Rd. With a small trill of fear I realise that if I was someone who wanted to get rid of this guy I may very well tell him to go find his target at 155 Missenden Rd, knowing full well that 155 Missenden is actually somehwere in the hospital. As we continue the hospital looms closer and I'm not looking forwward to continuing as far along as the hospital & beyond & desperately hoping that 155 Missenden does, in fact, exist. I get the distinct impression that if I can't find 155 I'm gonna get my ear bitten off.
As I turn to check the traffic before we cross the next road I see a big ass sign - 155. The apartment building on the corner is our destination. I spin a little too eagerly and prounce a little to happily, "Here it is, this building is 155!"
He turns around and says, "They're fucked now". He's pointing his hotdog at the sign and begins to laugh a satisfied, slightly unhinged laugh. Briefly I wonder if an apartment number forms part of his knowledge and I resolve to leave before it becomes an issue.
"Well, I'm going home dude, I'm gonna get something to eat" I say walking off. I turn around and say, "Don't do anything that'll put you back in gaol". Pointless but I had to make some comment.
He just stands there looking at the sign & laughing. I turn away and begin walking in the generally correct direction. It would have been quicker to go the other way but any direction away is good enough for me at that point. I keep a cautious ear out for sounds of pursuit but none reach me and I make it back to my car feeling a combination of bemusement and relief.
(this tale has been kindly donated by madam gutterfly.)