It’s not often you find hope in a strange corner. It normally creeps up on you in moments of despair or sits upon your mantelpiece, beaming, in times of plenty. But to find it in a strange corner is rare.
This piece of hope was not self generated. I wasn’t looking for hope at the time and I wasn’t aware that I needed it but when it’s found, it’s found and it shouldn’t be ignored.
I’ve always possessed fortitude and I’m very good at managing persistence but sometimes, it is true, I do lose hope. I look around and I see what’s what and I just lose it. That, of course, weakens the defences and allows despair, misery and sloth into life.
Today, though, I wasn’t aware that I was losing hope. I was, as the Americans might says, chipper. I prefer top hole or lashed up tight myself but then I’ve always had a thing for 1930s upper class English and not many people understand that these days.
So, there I was, all chipper and lashed up tight and strutting about town like a puffed up trumpleton. I was handing out cheery greetings and dispensing bonhomie like a pharmacist on happy pills. I made a witty quip to a downhearted acquaintance who told me I’d brought a smile to his lips for the first time in an age. I told a fella I know about another fella I know who would definitely do him a turn and both would be pleased by the link. I suppose you could say that I swaggered. I certainly preened. I was a man on top form and the world was my oyster, the pearl my undoubted reward.
That’s when the fall happened. It comes soon after the apex of the puffed up trumpleton stuff and it’s well deserved. It was a woman, it’s often a woman, but she told me in plain and simple terms that I didn’t have what it takes. She didn’t just say it. She spelled it out. She made it very clear that her grounds for these statements had real body – and I found it difficult, nay impossible, to counter her claims. And she did this in the open. Some of the fellas heard and a fair number of the women heard. Disdain was generated and I couldn’t gainsay it, nor did I wish to do so. I was flattened and I deserved my flattening. Like the cartoon wolf under the heavy anvil I was spread thin upon the ground and was available for walking upon by all and sundry. I know when I’m licked, all over.
That was when I looked in the corner. There, seated upon the ground, were a pair of children, snot smeared and knock kneed. Now I am not, by nature, a children person. I am a character, a charmer, a wit and an aesthete. I will wink at a child, I will produce a penny from behind its ear, I will smile and fawn but I will not spend time with the creature. If the child is the route to the mother, or, on occasion, the father then so be it. But God forbid that the purpose of the game is the child itself. That would be too, too vile.
But I am metaphorically flattened. I am down on my uppers. I am cast out and put aside. Time, I am telling myself, is what I need for I cannot utter a cliché about healing.
Then one child starts to blubber. Shaking and sobbing it is. The tears are rolling down its blotched and puffy cheeks. And the other child is head down upon its knees, arms folded round the caps. Then one arm sneaks out and holds the hand of the other child. And the other arm reaches into a pocket in which is probably kept old conkers, an inky handkerchief, an apple core from last week hardened and spongy as it approaches fossilisation, a penknife that is jammed, a foreign coin and a plastic dog keyring with no keys attached from a long gone Christmas cracker. The hand finds a toffee. Dog eared and sticky. The boy hands it to the other who peels back golden paper as strands of sugary brown gloop reach out and stick to inner wrap. He places the paper close to his mouth and scrapes the toffee from its shell with his front teeth. He stops crying, he smiles as he presses the sweetness into his gums with his tongue. His snotty laugh bubbles through and he turns and thanks his pal with smiling, brown tinged dribble. The boys stand and run away, jinking through the crowds.
There went hope revealed in a selfless act, a hand that reaches out, an unequal division of spoils. Nothing is offered in return. Nothing is expected.
And I, with all that I have and all that I can have, cannot give so freely or so easily. Perhaps I should.