Little J

Manchester. June 22

On the bus, I see a familiar friendly face. It’s Little J, I’ve known him for over a decade. See him on and off in the Booth Centre, the homeless support place, always in the Booth Centre. This time it’s different, he’s riding the bus into town. And his face is contorted.

I sit down beside him, ask how he’s doing. He says he’s not good, definitely not good. A friend of his is on the seat in front and he joins in the conversation, turns out he’s a neighbour of J and is trying to help getting into town, get him to see someone. But who?

Little J says over and over again, she’s died. Who has died? He shakes his head he can’t say the words. “I don’t get it,” he says at last, “I just don’t get it.”

His friend Chris whispers, “It’s his mum. She’s died.” 

I make my commiserations, the usual things but J just shakes his head, rejecting this information. “I don’t get it,” he says. “I really do not fucking get it. And how am I going to get to Ireland?” 

He reaches into his back pocket, takes out a bottle and drinks. He grins at the bottle, a spooked smile. It possesses him, makes his face a rictus.

The friend shrugs his big shoulders. “I’m worried, I keep taking him to see people but he won’t talk to ‘em,” he whispers to me. “You know J you know what he’s like, doesn’t wanna step forward. He’s the nicest man you could ever know when he’s not drinking.”

I have to get off at the next stop. I wave to the pair of them through the bus window, Little J reaches his hand out and presses the palm against the glass. I put my hand to his, a pane of glass between us.

Phil Davenport