Conversation at John Lewis yesterday

This happened yesterday. I’d thought that I hadn’t had a conversation with a random (and that’s not meant in a derogatory way) stranger in a while. It often happens and I always have given people the time of day. People need to be listened to, especially in this day and age. I don’t think I was much help that day, but this was how the conversation went…

I was at a busy New Street Station in the afternoon when I decided to go to the office and pick up my wife’s car. I’d made a call and was heading through the sliding doors, under the John Lewis canopy. Before I got to the concrete steps, bustling with Christmas shoppers and commuters a man shouted at me.

“Hey mate! Don’t you feel the cold with your hair?”

I turned around, and said with a smile

“That cuts deep man.”

I walked over to him

“You don’t need a hat then?”

“No, I’ve had his (pointing to my bald spot) since I’ve been 16.”

He started to backtrack. He was a young man, possibly thirty, I couldn’t tell. Tight puffa jacket zipped up over a tea towel shirt. Office trousers and smart shoes. Can of what looked to be super-strength lager (I could smell it on his breath) in his right hand a splifftail.

“Don’t be hung up about your looks man. There’s a lot more things to worry about.”

“I’m not, I was joking. You alright?”

He paused. His eyes were watery.

“We’ve all got to die some day man. Just think about it, one minute we’re here, the next…”

I nodded, smiling. I certainly didn’t feel like replying with my own psychobabble. I usually would do, but I needed to get across town.

“Got to decide where my roots are man. Do you think I’d be happier in Birmingham or Cambridge?”

I didn’t know.

“Wherever man. Places are what you make of it.”

That’s really the best I could do. He was silent. Then –

“Birmingham – just can’t seem to settle here.”

“Where are you from then? Can’t you go back there?”

He swigged from his can.

“You married? You got pussy?”

“I’ve got a wife.”

“Oh…” he said, slightly ashamed of his misplaced bravado.

“There were three of us. My father, my two brothers. My baby brother, he was Little Sam. All changed when my father died man. Everybody doesn’t know how lucky they are.” He looked around at the Christmas lights.

“Precisely. Look at the poor sods down there in their sleeping bags. They saw this whole thing constructed. They go to sleep under the big lights. The cranes keep them awake at night.”

He laughed. The conversation was less stilted. I was aware I needed to go.

“I don’t know anybody here. I haven’t got anyone.”

I smiled. There was nothing really I could do. I didn’t want to insinuate anything. To be fair, I wasn’t possibly being the best of help that day. I’ve given up on saying “You’ll be alright man.” It’s trite.

“I’ve got to be off. Sorry, it’s been good talking to you. Take care of yourself. What’s your name?”

“Simon” (pronounced Shi-mon) Have you got a fiver you could give me?”

I said no. I made my excuses and left. I trotted down the steps, putting my ears in. The doorway to the old Spearmint Rhino Extreme was covered in tatty sleeping bags, their occupants chatting and sharing cans of super-strength lager. I turned around. Simon had gone. It will possibly be the case that this will not be the last time I see him about.

There’s a reason why I bump into these people. Don’t know why.

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