I first met Jim when I was working in a food bank. He came in to ask if he could get some food. He was reeking of Buckfast. I told him that he had to be referred.
He laughed, “Take your referral and your food bank and stick them right up, and I mean right up your fucking arse!”
I shit myself. He was a big man and there was a presence about him. I don’t know why but I pointed to the side door and told him to wait there. I pulled together some bits and pieces and a can-opener, put them in a carrier bag and took them out to him.
He stared at me, “Is this a side line? I’ve got fuck all to pay you with.”
“No side line. I don’t want anything. And the referral, all you need to do is go to a Church, The Sally Army or The Council and they’ll give you a voucher, do that when this runs out.
…Where are you staying?”
“Down the shore, I’ve got a tent. I got chucked off the Bowling Green – Nazi Bastards! What the fuck is it to you anyway?”
I held up my hands, “Nothing to me, but the Council could find you somewhere. Why not go in and see them? It’s not far from here. If you wait outside for me, I’m going that way, I’m just about loused.”
“What do you want? A fucking medal or a kiss?”
I smiled but was concerned with the change in his expression.
“Neither! Especially the kiss.”
“How? Do you not fancy me? Am I that fucking ugly?”
I knew he was looking for a reaction.
“You are a very handsome man, but my wife gets upset when I kiss strangers.”
He looked me up and down and began to snigger. He held out his hand, “I’m Skye Jim…Skye Jim McKay if you are giving me my Sunday name.”
I shook his hand, “I’m Robert.”
“I wasn’t giving you a fucking choice in the matter.”
I decided not to question his good nature or aggression.
“…And where are you from Skye Jim?”
He laughed, “You’ve got a set of balls boy, I’ll give you that! Not many folks would fuck with me. I don’t let them.”
I grabbed my coat and walked into town with him. He took out a half bottle of Vodka from his pocket, tanned half of it and offered me a drink. I took a swig.
“Cheers but keep the rest of it for yourself.”
He frowned at me, “Who says I was going to offer you any more? And what the fuck are you saying, are you calling me an alkie?”
I started to think that talking to Jim would be me mostly answering to him.
“Sorry for being presumptuous and no, I’m not calling you an alkie, it’s just that if you are staying down the beach, then you’ll need something to keep you warm!”
“You’re a slippery wee cunt, you’ve an answer for everything.”
He held out the vodka again, “Sure?”
“Thanks but you have it.”
He shrugged and took another swig. There was only about a quarter of it left. I wondered if he would make the Council Offices.
He took out a harmonica and started playing ‘Dirty Old Town’. He held his cap out as people walked by.
To the folks who ignored him, he growled, “Thanks very fucking much!”
This was normally followed by someone putting something in his cap. He winked at me, ‘Works every time!”
I pointed at the building, “That’s it there.”
Jim was counting the coins.
“OK son, I’ve got enough for a couple of cans. What do I say to these cunts?”
“Just tell them that you’ve nowhere to stay. They may come up with something, or they may tell you to come back when something becomes available. Do you want me to come in with you?”
“Do I look like a fucking retard?”
“No sir, you certainly do not.”
…“Are you working tomorrow?”
“Aye. Ten ’till four.”
“I might come in and tell you how I got on.”
“Do that. Oh, have you room in your bag for that food?”
“Well if they don’t see it, they’ll probably offer you a voucher if you tell them you have nothing! As long as you behave, be nice.”
He nodded his head, “I’m always fucking nice!”
“Really! So far I’d say I recognise suspicion and scepticism.”
He stared at me, “You listen, I’ll give you that… Even though you missed me being a delight.”
I laughed, “That was going to be my very next observation.”
He shook my hand again, “…You’re no a bad cunt.”
I noticed him swaying as he put the cans into his holdall, the booze was finally taking effect. I didn’t think he would remember about coming into my work to tell me how he got on.
I watched out for him all the next day. Just before four the door swung open and he waved a voucher at me. He was well in the bag.
I started gathering some food for him.
“Well, what’s the score?”
“Last night was my last night in my tent. I’ve to go to ‘The Poolside B&B tonight after five – Do you know it?”
“Aye, the owner is a lovely wee lady, she’ll spoil you.”
“I’m just going to get my stuff, I’ve got it planked. I’ve beer. I insist you have a drink with me.”
I was going to say no, but I didn’t reckon he would let me.
I finished my shift and walked with him towards the beach.
“They were alright in that Council place. I spoke to a woman about my age, Sandra I think.”
“I know her.”
“…I only look at her in a professional way.”
He smiled, “You’re very diplomatic son… How do you know about all this?”
“Just from where I work. We learn off the punters how to go about most things.”
We reached the beach and Jim headed to a dune and moved some wood and plastic bags. He pulled out a rucksack and took out two cans of beer. We sat down in the sand. It was Baltic, I wondered how he was able to stay in a tent at night without freezing to death.
“Your very good health son!”
Jim took a drink and then took out a bottle of Buckfast.
“Do you want some?”
“I shook my head. No chance. I tasted that stuff when I was ten and have hated it ever since.”
“Ten! Fucking late starter.”
“No, my old gran drank it for the iron, or so she said. She’d give me a glass whether I wanted it or not, it was fucking minging. I don’t think anyone knew that it was alcoholic. We all thought she was naturally happy, she wasn’t, she was just permanently pished.”
He laughed, “You’ve a point, it gives me a buzz quite quickly too.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, are you wanting to settle here?”
His brows went down and he became transfixed on his bottle. I didn’t push for an answer.
“I need to get somewhere to stay. I need an address. They told me that they may consider me for a house but I’ll have a few weeks to wait before they make a decision. I’m able to register myself at the B&B until then. They said there is a nurse if I want to see her – Do you know anything about that.”
I nodded, “Yes, she sometimes drops into the bank. All you need to do is go back into those offices and they’ll make an appointment for you.”
“I’m going to no fucking nurse!”
His face had changed again.
I held my hands up, “It’s not compulsory.”
“Fucking good job. No bastard is forcing me into doing anything!”
I was thinking of making my excuses and leaving but he threw me another beer.
“…How do you get to see a doctor?”
I thought I’d better tread carefully, “Let me finish before you say anything…Deal?”
He glowered at me but nodded.
“That is the reason to see the nurse, she can get you into a doctors. You don’t need to tell her anything specific, just that you’ve been on the streets for a while and you’d like a check-up.”
“Is that normal?”
“Aye. Don’t get me wrong most folks that are through the system are normally looking for some form of medication, they do like to try and self medicate.”
“Now Mr McKay, that is something we don’t say. And for fuck sake don’t let anyone in those offices or any of the support workers hear you say that.”
“Fuck them! Junkies are fucking junkies. I hate them. They’ve stole off of me before and fucked off before I could rip their heads off.”
I didn’t want to ask if he’d been lying steamin’.
“Look Jim, what you need to do is keep your thoughts to yourself and play the game. Say little when you’re drunk and say more when you’re sober. I’ve a feeling you get that all arse for tit.”
He stood over me. “I should give you a slap!”
“Why? For trying to fucking help you?”
He starred at me for a few seconds then tapped his can onto mine.
“OK, son, I’ll play the game! Cheers.”
“Here’s to you then Mr McKay.”
I had hardly taken my first sip of the second can when he threw me another one.
I swallowed as much of the second can as I could and was beginning to feel it.
“Will it be a male doctor?”
“If you want. All Laura, that’s the nurse, will do, will be to organise a surgery for you to attend, just tell them when you are arranging your appointment that you want a male.”
“…Is that weird?”
“Nope. Different people ask to see different doctors, it’s not an issue. Everyone has their own preference.”
He took out a tobacco tin, opened it and held it out to me.
“No thanks. I need to watch the booze, never mind anything else. If I take one draw of that stuff, I’ll probably end up hitting old ladies over the head for their pension money to feed my habit.”
I was thankful he accepted what I said, either that or he didn’t really want to share. He lit up and took a few draws and another long swallow of the Buckfast.
“I’ve a problem. I need a doctor.”
“…Well make sure that you go.”
He was wanting to talk but was deciding what to say.
“I’m bleeding…But I’m not a fucking homosexual.”
My self preservation was trying to advise me how to respond. I had an inkling that Jim would very easily beat the shit out of me and enjoy doing so if I said something he didn’t like. I felt that being honest was the only way I could go. For some reason I knew he would respect that.
“I didn’t think you were. But it sounds as if you’d better see someone.”
“…Will he think I’m a homosexual?”
I shook my head, “No, he won’t think anything. He’ll deal with what you tell him. A doctor doesn’t care what you are, they only want to help you get better.”
He pointed into my face, “You better not just be saying that boy!”
I held up my can, “I promise.”
He tapped it with his.
“No bother. I’ll ask you if you went the next time I see you but I’m not asking anything else, understand?”
We sat for a few minutes drinking and looking at the water.
“My uncle raped me when I was a kid.”
I found myself being conscious about not reacting in any way.
“Jim, you don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“No, I need to explain why I don’t want to go to the doctor and why he may think what he will. I’m not homosexual. I didn’t want that cunt to do what he did. I was only young, I couldn’t stop him. But I keep thinking I should have found a way, but I was a fucking wimp in those days.”
“Those thoughts are all from you, blaming yourself is only from you. It was the sick fuck who abused who is completely to blame. As I said, the doctor will only deal with what you tell him and what is wrong with you. There can be a dozen things that cause you to bleed and most of them are nothing. But you still need to go.”
Nothing else was said about that. We spoke about no specifics, nothing too deep, we just shot the breeze until he had finished his roll-up.
“Will you give me a hand with my stuff.”
“Of course, I need to thank you for the beer.”
He handed me a couple of bags.
“What way are we going?”
“Just back the way we came, it’s on the right, it won’t even take us ten minutes.”
He followed me.
“When are you back at work?”
“I’m off ’til next Tuesday. I finish at four as usual.”
“I might come in and see you. You can take me for a pint.”
I nodded, “As long as you have done what we spoke about.”
“Aye, I will.”
We reached his digs.
“You don’t trust people, do you Jim?”
“Fuck no! They either disappoint or take. The last time I trusted some cunt, the bastard robbed me and hit me with a log. Funny enough, that was the last time I saw a doctor, well a surgeon to be exact. They had to reconstruct my jaw.”
“Did they get the guy”
I don’t know if his smile was delightful or evil, “They didn’t. But I did.”
I left it at that.
He never turned up at the bank. I decided to go to the B&B and see him.
He wasn’t there, the owner told me he’d been arrested the night before and his accommodation had been cancelled. He was done for having a go at one of the other residents. Jim had wanted to hand his keys in and took umbrage that the guy was talking to the landlady. Her daughter had phoned the Police and Jim was really unlucky as they were dealing with another incident in the next street. They were there within two minutes and huckled him.
I asked her if she was alright and she said that he never went near her. She did say that the other guy was still unconscious when they put him in the ambulance. Jim had cracked him four times rapid.
I was just leaving when I saw him walking up the road.
“Fucking hell Jim, what happened?”
“I don’t know son, I just remember that someone was annoying me. I woke up in the cells. They’ve just let me out. I’m picking up my belongings and I need to apologise to the wee wumin. I’ve been told to fuck off so off I should fuck. The prick isn’t charging me – Ball-less bastard.”
“Are you going back to the Council?”
“I need a fucking beer first. I’ve got a helluva thirst.”
“Then are you going back into see them?”
He grinned, “I don’t need to.”
“Cause I was at the doctors yesterday morning, it’s only a bleeding pile. A wee tube of cream and a course of antibiotics…So I’m getting to fuck.”
“Where are you going?”
“Dublin – I’m registered there. I can get some money.”
“Have you got enough for the ferry?”
“I will have son! And thanks!”
He shook my hand, took out his mouth organ and started playing ‘Dirty Old Town’.
…I watched out for Jim and continued to do so. I asked about him but nobody heard anything.
I always thought Jim had been running since the day his uncle abused him.
He did tell me once about having a house near the coast. He wanted to rescue a dog and be able to walk it every day along a beach somewhere. I hope he did that.
But with most of the folks I worked with, happy endings never happened.
Image – Pixabay