I Am John
‘I first saw him, sleeping in the front seat of his car, impossibly squashed, with his weary head resting on a pillow balancing on the window sill. It was almost 9.’
His name is John, and he lives in his car.
I walk past him twice a day in my usual hurried manner on my way to work.
For months, I didn’t notice him. For months, I walked straight past, consumed with my own thoughts, and my own life.
and he never made himself known.
He never, ever, asked me for anything, he never told me his story, he simply existed.
I remember seeing him once, cooking some beans on a little gas stove. I thought he was a backpacker, on a lovely holiday.
“That’s a clever way to see Australia if you’re on a budget” I thought.
I noticed a bunch of clothes neatly stacked in a white washing basket, others dangling out of a half open window, drying I guess.
Sometimes he would sit in his camp chair, with his personal things around him, you know, gadgets, cooking utensils, an old fashioned transistor radio, and appear to be busy, as if he was trying to organise himself.
Another time, I saw him sleeping in the front seat of his car all squashed up, with his weary head resting on a pillow, that was doubled over balancing on the window sill. It was almost 9.
He must have wondered why I never said hello, why no one ever said hello.
-and then one day, a friend of mine, told me his name was John.
“Do you know John?”-He asked
“He lives in his car, you know, that little old red one?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen him. He lives in his car?”
“Yep. He came over to talk to me once, and I was busy, so I fobbed him off and he quieltly walked away. I felt really terrible as that’s not me, so the next day, I took him a bag of oranges and some bananas. He stared at them for ages, looked at me like he was confused and said-
‘I haven’t had fruit in 5 months’
He had a career, and a family, until something went wrong and he lost everything. He hasn’t seen his kids in 12 years.”
He was there, the very next day when I passed him, this time, with a purpose.
His head was down, not wishing to engage in any way, busily preparing breakfast.
“Hello, John” I said
He stopped what he was doing and lifted his eyes in my direction, but his head remained down.
“Hello” -he said faintly
He was so quiet I could hardly make out the words. There was something wrong with his eyes, I don’t know what but they had the potential to create fear in some.
I don’t think he was prepared for conversation, as he didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
I kept walking on my Merry way, I thought it best to keep moving.
The next day, I once again walked in front of his car to catch his attention.
“Hi”- He instantly responded.
If I wasn’t mistaken, he almost smiled this time, and his response was clear and more definite.
For a week, I greeted him and acknowledged his presence. It was difficult to tell whether this meant anything to him or not, but he always responded with an element of surprise in his voice.
Before I knew it, annual leave was upon me, and I consequently hadn’t seen John for a couple of weeks.
I wanted to prepare a Christmas hamper for him, so I bought a little basket and filled it with essential items. Fruit, tinned food, biscuits, some sparkling grape juice, bread etc.
He was one of those invisible people.
You know those?
The ones that nobody knows, and nobody seems to care about?
There are plenty of those people around.
I call them the invisible people.
The people that believe their failings deem them an outcast, or are so unforgivable they don’t deserve to share in the gift of living.
The damaged, pained souls who have lost themselves in the consequence of past, and who have been conditioned to fear, and hide and run from everything that hurts.
Those tortured minds inside which mental illness has well and truly taken the reigns and eaten away the person that was, or could’ve been.
How do people get this way?
How do people end up this broken?
I couldn’t wait to give him his hamper, to make him realise, that someone knew now, that
HE WAS JOHN.
As I pulled into the car park that was his home for the last 6 months, my stomach fell into my feet.
He was gone.
I drove back in the evening thinking he may have just been out, but his car park, his little piece of land he called home, was empty.
The very spot where his invisible life had been, was now a few random doves, some stained concrete and a pair of lifeless white lines.
‘But he can’t be gone’- I told myself.
I stared at the empty space in front of me for minutes, suddenly suffocatingly helpless.
It occurred to me, that I just expected he would be there, like I would be in my house, or my friends in theirs.
But he had no home, now did he? I just made that up to make myself feel better, and to convince myself he wasn’t so unhappy with his camp chair and beans for dinner.
But that’s not how it works with invisible people, now is it?
His home was not that car parking space afterall.
‘No permanent address’
Bollocks, I desperately wanted him to have the hamper, because I thought in my naive little mind, that he would realise someone cared.
-and I wanted for him to be given a gift, for christmas, so that he could share for one small moment, what the rest of us take for granted-feeling worthy of someone else’s thoughts.
But he was never going to stay, because he had given up on himself, long, long, ago, and his plans were not plans, but survival tactics, and that’s how he had to roll.
I never got to give John his Christmas hamper.
Rumour has it, he headed South to the cooler weather, a couple of days before I realised.
I know you will never read this, but I hope a little messenger is able to let you know in some strange way, that I was happy to have met you.
and to me,
You are John, and you are no longer invisible.