I used to look at you,
Rushing by with “too much to do in too little time”-
What an envious life they lived.
You’d listen to their cursing,
Wishing you could trade your ripped cords,
Your vomit-specked sleeping bag,
Your damp trainers,
Your heroin addiction
For their pin stripes,
Their Italian leather,
Their smooth chins,
And their deadlines.
You’d thank them for their ignorance,
Wishing them well for the day.
Some would apologise, “Sorry mate, only notes”,
Then walk away from your plight
To the tune of £2.10 in their trousers.
Wasn’t always so bad:
Occasionally, you’d get tossed a copper
From a busy banker on a call to Hong Kong,
Without a look like a sardine to a seal
Whose novelty had worn off at the zoo.
It probably did more for them than you:
Their good deed of the day
And conceited ego-stroke
In the bag before elevenses.
I’d bring you a bacon butty
And a cup of tea, determined
To feed only you and not your habit.
You were grateful. I was moved.
So I’d lean against your living room,
Noting that you’d never request my shoes off,
And listen to your stories,
So wonderfully told given the circumstances.
A gifted illustrator-
I still have the witty strip about you
Giving change to the bankers following the Crunch-
How we laughed.
Nearly a professional cricketer too,
Before a snapped cruciate put paid to that.
You had revealed your knee-
Wrapped in a discarded tea towel to stop
The cold adding insult to injury.
Other times, we simply talked about me.
I didn’t want to complain too much,
Or talk at length about my date next Friday,
Afraid it may offend you.
You insisted it wouldn’t and encouraged me:
Perhaps you felt able to live a slice of life
Through my trite tribulations.
Or maybe you were simply happy for me.
That had continued for a good two years,
When one morning I didn’t see you.
The suits didn’t notice the vacancy in the doorway
But I did. I fed your breakfast to the pigeons that day.
I often wonder where you went.
Did you get saved and housed and move into
Illustrating whilst listening to the Test matches
On the battery radio I gave you?
Or did you trade belief for a bottle,
And with a needle in a collapsed vein,
Follow the empties into the river?
I hope it was the former,
That I’ll see your distinctive style on the Politics page,
That I’ll pass you in the street and won’t recognise your smooth chin.
Until then, I don’t walk the Thames way to work anymore.