It was late in this city that I’ve grown to love and I walked to the neon lit strip of fast food establishments and decided on KFC for dinner. As I paid for my order Graham appeared at my shoulder and struggled to read the menu. He’d lost his glasses he said, although I wondered briefly if he could read. I asked what he was in the mood for, read him a few options and left him to place his order.
As I sat eating Graham asked to join me, saying ‘I’ll sit as far away from you as possible’ which made me laugh. I asked him to be my guest and he sat down diagonally opposite me. Wiry of build, close-cropped hair, a sculptured goatee and eyes that sparkled in a handsome face. As we ate dinner we talked, Graham and I. He charmed me with self penned poetry; tales of a young girl lost to an overdose in an alley in Kings Cross. He convincingly, and repeatedly, expressed surprise over my age which made me laugh again. Graham spoke of his children, of his life lived on the streets since the age of twelve, in and out of gaol. Back to his children who don’t know he lives on the streets. The son, who works the mines, doesn’t know, and the daughter is sworn to secrecy on the bits she does know because ‘Why would you want to worry them Kate? Every time they hear a body’s been found in the city? What right do I have to put that image in their heads?’ He spoke of his mother who left him aged 10. She’s in her eighties now and he rings her every week to tell her that he loves her. ‘Why do I ring her, when she left when I was ten? Because from birth to three she was there for me and I knew that I was loved. I knew that I was loved, Kate, and that was the main thing.’ His father, who was a bit of a dick but ‘you know Kate, he was just being the way men were meant to be.’ We talked, Graham my charming dinner companion and I, with a lifetime of admitted abuse belied by his intelligent conversation and quick wit.
When we had finished eating we adjourned to the bus stop outside so Graham could smoke his rolly. He looked at the office building across the road and told me of living there. When it was under construction he’d found a way past the scaffolding, around behind the church and he slept there, many levels up, safe and dry with views across the city.
As we sat and talked we were joined by Sally, in her wheelchair, her man Russ and their daughter Jessica. Sally spoke of her seizures, that kept her in the chair, her breast cancer, her lesions on the brain. She told of Jessica witnessing tubes being shoved down her mother’s throat only the other week – ‘She’s a tough one, that one!’ They said they were sleeping rough tonight and unlike my well presented Graham they wore the grime of days and nights on the streets. I took Jessica into the McDonald’s for ice cream and asked her how old she was and she said eleven. She said eleven. Graham gave them details of a friend who had rooms available. Then Graham and I, we watched them walk away into the drizzling rain, into the night. In Australia, the lucky country.
Ever the gentleman, Graham insisted on walking me back to my room, despite an injured leg that left him limping. As we walked he gestured casually to someone sleeping in a doorway. Someone I would not have even seen had he not pointed them out. A man with mad professor hair, wearing pyjamas, a bandage on one bare foot and a hospital bracelet encircling his arm, rolled up on his mobility scooter and begged Graham for a smoke. Graham gave him his second last paper and enough tobacco to fill it from the little he had left and we walked on. We came to my building and parted ways. Graham asked me to look after myself and left me with a handshake. I walked inside, and upstairs to my bed.