Encounter II

Bushman on Smith St

I was riding my bike home

A little drunk down Johnston St

The alcohol made my legs pump fast

Barely feeling the ache

I imagined if someone else

Could see through my eyes for that moment

Feel the cool against my hot legs pumping blood

 

I wanted a cigarette

I locked my bike up at the intersection and went for a walk

Hawk eyes on the hunt for embers

The glowing tips

Of white paper stems

Protruding from strangers fingers

 

I saw an old man

Wheeling

A couple of small black bags behind him

I stopped him

Felt a confidence encouraged by his wrinkled eyes

When he invited me to sit with him

Outside a greasy, fluorescent

Fish and chip shop

 

He told me he used to work out bush

On apple and raspberry farms,

Picking.

Used to work in mills too.

Worked his whole damn life

But he’d injured himself, apparently.

Now was looking for a cheap guitar to try and make a buck

‘Used to work my ass off

And now just need a buck’

 

Why didn’t I give him anything?

 

He was so easy to talk to

Rambled slightly

Like they do

But his eyes were clear

 

He asked me what I do

Told me he tried to get into art school once

Was 53 though he looked 70

Scraggly and leather

Had been smoking for 38 years

Woke up suffocating most nights

 

I wondered where he slept

 

He was gonna make a buck

Head out bush again

As he said

‘drink the fresh water and say thank you,

Thank you.’

Cupping weathered hands to lips

Outside the fish and chip shop.

 

He offered me another smoke for the road

Let me use an apple flavoured paper

Expected nothing

I gave him nothing

Except maybe a listening ear

And I was really listening too

I was really listening

 

And then I left

Walked back to my bicycle licking apple from my lips

Thinking of open spaces

Of farms far away.

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