Doing the Wrong Thing

Walking briskly down the long platform at London Bridge station, to where the train that went to Sydenham and probably a bunch of other places after that, in the early crowdless cool grey morning wasnt anything more than an extension of the soporific torpor emanating form an inability to wake up after a short nights sleep made uneasy by too much alcohol. The thought of another day of work at the homeless shelter hardly likely to interrupt a brain in near catatonic shut down: the thought of another day of threats, broken lives and the perpetual explosive mix of potential violence just below the uncalm surface hardly likely to stir anything positive in thought leaving shutdown as the prefered and default setting for survival in dealing with work.

Heading up the new road facing east early in the morning and once again between the brooding deeply dark clouds covering the whole panorama of the sky and the low mountains in the distance was an intense bright of yellow. No disk or corona but just an intense mild yellow that stretched in the small gap between mountains and clouds and then to either side grew wider as the land fell away from the mountains leaving a larger space for the invasion of light into the realm of the utter threatening darkness above with maybe to the seaward side behind an even lighter and promising environ but for me to the rear and not in the direction I was going. And up towards the dark of mountains and clouds and past the electric transformer that supplied the power to the little now deserted pub with the signs with the witches hat on. And as moving forward an explosion of sound and light. A sudden sound from behind and an intense light flash surrounding me in its halo followed by a collection of sparks and embers showering high overhead and then falling dimly to the front and sides of me.

I was sitting in the little office in the front of the shelter. The one refuge for the workers. Sitting there with Mairtin the deputy director who was now in charge as the director like many other workers was on permanent sick leave with a break down. Mairtin was a republican and a proud one at that and his name had to be spoken with the correct pronunciation or he took it personally. Mairtin was always good for stories of marches, beatings, glorifications of the hardness of him and his family and presenting his own version of the oppression he faced as a Catholic in occupied Northern Ireland as he saw it. He was also good at using the works petty cash to support his drinking habit and all that of all who drank with him. For some reason every other man who worked at the shelter was either from Mairtin’s family or a friend of the family from the town in which they lived.

I was on the back and underused stairs of the shelter with a mop and bucket cleaning up some pile of vomit that no doubt excessive drug or alcohol use had led to even though of course drug and alcohol use were banned in the shelter and those under the influence were not let in, at least theoretically. Steven came running down the stairs bag in hand and stopped in front of me. Steve one of the residents, and one who had always seemed to me more together than some others, was someone I had always got along fairly with considering the relationship and I always had time for a chat with him. It seemed he had just been evicted over some infringement of rules for residents and was not overly happy about it. After some abuse and demands to know where Mairtin and Mick, another worker who eventually got dismissed for illicit sexual liaisons with residents, were as he was going to “fucking kill them”, Steve went on his way towards the front of the building and the way out as well as the office.  Thinking that I had better go and see all was OK in the office where Mairtin, Mick and Mairtin’s brother Jim were I headed after Steve. Arriving at the office I found the door closed, locked and through the window could see some piece of furniture in front too. Talking to Mairtin through the door it soon came out that the reason was Steve. Apparently after some deciding to evict Steve for some reason I still to this day don’t know about Mairtin and Mick went to clear his room and pack his belongings while he was out. While doing so Mick found an unloaded revolver in the drawer with a few bullets too. He decided to load the gun although quite why nobody seemed to know but that was Mick. Then Steve returned and on finding out of his eviction got a little upset and threatened to kill everybody working in the shelter at which point the guys ran to the office and barricaded themselves in.

I was in the office with Mairtin, his brother Jim, Jim’s best friend Martin and Steve, not the resident who got thrown out but Steve who had a converted van with beds and things inside for travelling Europe or at least England, listening to stories of drink, fighting and their cleverness. Steve, not the resident who got thrown out and not the worker with the converted van but the one who as a young man in Ireland had been a prodigy at snooker and been virtually unbeatable with a great future ahead of him but who had after some violence at home fled to London and taken to the streets and a life of hustling, drugs, sexual predators and violence, came in. Steve of the snooker was another who was always worth a conversation and who had oddly enough no regrets about the turn in his life. Anyway Steve came to tell us that Lucretia was a bit of a problem in the TV room because of something about a knife and broken glass. I was first out of the door. Knowing there were so many of us helped as knives were not something to be taken easily especially in the hands of Lucretia who was a personality split between being spoken to by the devil, and I never got over that idea and her name which made it seem so movie like, and a sweet innocent girl who wouldn’t hurt anyone and who would cry frequently. I was first into th sparse TV room and saw in the corner Lucretia with a broken glass in one hand and a knife in the other and speaking something fairly incoherent while clearly scaring a couple of other young girl runaways trying to watch Eastenders on the communal TV. Deciding that this was best ended rapidly I walked straight towards Lucretia and told her to put the glass down and give me the knife. I had her attention quickly and she held me for a while with her gaze as I approached and she put the glass onto the windowsill next to where she stood while I got closer still aware that she had the knife and that I was now within an easy distance for her to use it on me. We had, had no training in how to deal with such issues and so I’m not really sure if the approach I took was a good one or just plain silly. However, with one last look Lucretia or Cretia as she liked to be called suddenly handed the knife to me and then burst into tears.. I looked round to give the knife to one of the other workers and found myself to be totally alone in the room except for the few girls trying to watch Eastenders and Steve of the snooker who watched from the doorway.

I had known Helen since college and she had actually helped me get the job at the shelter. She was a caring person and one who far better understood those who found themselves at our workplace than I did. Together we took Cretia in a taxi to the hospital having spent a long time talking to her. She obviously needed something and it was something she wouldn’t find for herself and something we couldn’t give her. However, for treatment she needed to admit herself. As nothing much had happened in reality were not going the police route and she had fled from family and had nobody. It was a shock entering the gates of the old Victorian hospital and seeing the vast sprawling aged building just like anything from another horror movie. However, after a short wait for the three of us in a sterile cream painted room with vinyl chairs things moved rapidly and Cretia was admitted at her own request while Helen and I noticed the procession of people clearly drugged wandering aimlessly around in wards secured by heavy doors. It was a quiet trip back to the shelter via a restaurant we frequented but which this time left us only empty pushing food around plates. What happened to Cretia after that I do not know.

As the soporific walk down the platform continued passing unlit and parked trains heading to the one lit and ready in the distance on one of those extra little platforms at the end of the station for Sydenham suddenly there was a dull thud and then smoke and then pieces of wood and cement rising into the air and passing over and around me. Then silence with smoke hanging in the air. Then suddenly whistles and people running as I boarded the train I had now reached taking a seat as it shuddered and then accelerated quicker than normal out of the station. Looking at my watch suddenly shaken out of my stupor I realized that the train had left the station early which was something unheard of that raised a smile. On reaching work I heard that the IRA had placed a bomb in a toilet on a platform at London Bridge station that had gone off without warning that morning. Mairtin was particularly happy at another blow for his cause.

Out on the car parks that extend over the sea at Laem Than this morning everything was grey and the wind was fresh and strong causing even the distant fisherman in his small boat to bend against it as he tried to haul a net in. The only sound, the sound of wind and for once apart from the distant fisherman nobody except me. It was a time to enjoy quiet nothingness. No thought, no distraction, no interruption just the perfection of a complete nothingness that is rarely found and when is rarely lasts for long. But for once a time to just be.


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