Campari & Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice
The only time I met Ismail he was crouched down against the rough brick and flint church wall at the bus stop at St Mark’s church where I had been cleaning the altar brasses.
‘Are you alright?’ My question was rather rhetorical as he certainly looked unwell if not odd crouched down there in this cold weather now threatening to rain or snow.
‘Harry’s going to die anyway,’ he muttered fleetingly glancing in my direction and then back at the pavement.
‘Who is Harry? And even if he is there is no point in you joining him which you certainly will if you continue sitting down there in this weather young man. Here, let me help you up.’
He attempted to avoid my help by moving his elbow into his side but I kept a firm hold and he allowed me to bring him up to a standing position. I was quite surprised when seeing him face to face how young he was and that he was an inch or two shorter than me. His face was a light milky-tea brown, with the pubescent, wispy-makings of a beard. His hair was simply black, long and unkempt. If I hadn’t discovered him cooping there on a winter’s afternoon I would have assumed he had just got out of bed having spent the night fully clothed in his current attire.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Ismail. What do you want with me missus? I wan’t doin’ any harm wuz I? I always get down like that when dis cold wind is blowin. Ain’t no law about that is there?’ He looked so desperate, so helpless, yet so hopeless part of me wanted to shake him while the other half wanted to hug him but I resisted.
His nose started to run but before I could fish for a tissue from my bag he had wiped it away on the sleeve of his combat jacket that showed signs of previous similar use.
‘So, tell me who is this friend Harry and why is he going to die?’
‘It’s a long story missus and I ain’t got time to tell you. You can’t help him. Nobody can help him so just forget it. You got any money you can spare me?’
How many times had my brother told me not to give in these situations. Don’t take out you purse and let them see it. But I did. I took my purse from my bag, opened it – there was a ten and a twenty pound note inside. I hesitated then gave him both.
‘There, that’s all I have I’m afraid but it should buy you something hot. Where will you go now you’re on your own?’
His face almost broke into a smile but not quite. He took the money politely and crumpled the notes into a grubby hand touching his heart all in one movement.
‘Fanks missus, don’t you worry about me, somemink will come up, really.’
He turned and shuffled off down St Mark’s Avenue just as the street lights came on. I stood and watched him until his pathetic figure disappeared over the crest of the avenue. I brushed a tear from my cheek unsure if it was from sorrow or the cold December wind that was starting to pick up; turned around and headed for home.
The following morning I called the local police station and asked if there had been any accidents the previous day. They said a young Asian boy had been fatally wounded in a hit and run accident. He didn’t have any identity papers on him and had no idea if his name was Harry. They were curious as to why I wanted to know as he had a large letter ‘H’ tattooed on the back of his hand.