Walking to work past the builder’s yard, towards the bridge
he beckons me over the sound of my headphones,
a tired looking man, probably younger than me
gestures ahead, gestures to the left, to the right
while asking the word “Spalding?”
He shows me a text message with the address
of a farm in the Fens and gestures again,
as if it should be the next town, to the left, to the right, or ahead.
I tell him that Spalding is a long day’s walk
or an hour by train and it takes a few seconds to sink in.
He looks defeated. He asks for £5 towards a train ticket.
I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk over the bridge together.
He pulls his passport out of a plastic bag inside his jacket and
a piece of paper that congratulates him on his eligibility to work here
and another with a list of jobs written in capital letters.
As we walk towards the station, George from Romania starts to cry.
He is lost, he is grateful, but I can’t take the gratitude of someone
who is cold and slept outside last night.
I put my hand on his shoulder to offer some reassurance
and act focused, briskly leading him to a temporary solution.
I buy him a return ticket in case Spalding doesn’t work out,
give him some cash,
find out when and where the next train will be
and all the while, George
who has been in this country for a month,
stands lost and waiting in the station while I criss cross past him
from ticket machine, to cash machine, to information desk.
More gratitude, his eyes tired and red with tears, I wish him luck and
put my hand on his shoulder but wish now I’d embraced him.
I leave him staring at the ticket and call my wife.
She cries on the phone and I am with her and George
as I walk, as I work, and as I return home.
4 thoughts on “The walk to work”
This is beautiful. A man on the street today asked me to buy him lunch. I said no, and I regret that.
Thanks for this, Joss.
Good one Joss. I’m sure people in the UK have hundreds of such encounters each day. Pity the mainstream media rarely carries these little vignettes of ordinary people just trying to survive in the UK. I wonder if one of the more sympathetic national newspapers could be persuaded to ask for reader contributions of similar encounters?