Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Homeless in Tralee

winter morningThe first time I spot him he is crouched under a tree in the park, looking at his phone, an old Nokia, as if waiting for it to ring. A couple of days later he’s walking towards me and I make a point of saying hello to him. He looks surprised but after a few days of me persisting, with nothing more than an ‘hello’, he begins to nod in acknowledgement. I would put him in his late twenties, though the short, cropped black hair is already receding. His skin looks healthy, though the ingrained dirt gives him a tanned look that oddly enough doesn’t suit the poor weather we’re having. His dirty jeans drag along under his heels, the permanent creases even blacker than the rest. A dark jumper comes down over the top of his waist, covering his hips. Smaller in height than even me, though not too skinny, his eyes have the look of someone lost, someone used to being loved and the words ‘some mother’s son’ always come to me when I see him. Even in the height of a busy summer I see him somewhere in the park and an ‘hello’, followed with a ‘how are you?’ are usually answered by a polite ‘ok, thank you’, in a difficult to place accent. I never see him drunk, or bothering anyone or even in the company of others, no matter the time of day. If you only see someone once, looking as he does, you might say he was on his way home after a bad night out, but daily, in the same clothes and around the same spots, can only put him among the numbers of our modern great shame: the homeless.

Towards the end of the summer, I add the riverbank walkway to my nightly route. The walk is well sheltered and once you get beyond the Aquadome the street lights brighten what can be an imposing darkness. It’s a bit more industrial, with the poured concrete walkway, the drinkers on the benches and continuous traffic close by, obvious contrasts with the peaceful surroundings of Tralee town park. Oddly enough the man disappears from the park during August and pops up at times along the riverbank, where we continue our brief exchanges. I wonder if the crowds became too much for him and he’s escaping to the riverbank for some peace.

The man disappears completely in late August. I don’t see him a for a couple of weeks until one September evening along the riverbank, he’s sitting on a bench, looking at his phone. There is an immediate look of recognition between us and he smiles in response to my hello. I see him nightly at the same spot and on a few early-morning walks he’s there too. As the bench is close to some thick bushes I wonder if that is where he sleeps at night. He looks a lonely sort, possibly dealing with his demons or maybe he’s one of us who just can’t fit into society. Seeing him on the same bench, always alone, in the same clothes, just looking straight ahead and always the old phone in his hand, makes you wonder how he ended up on the margins.

For the rest of the autumn and into the early winter we pass each other. As the weather turns he gets a black jacket that he keeps zipped up. One November morning I’m walking  by Lidl and I see him coming out from the store ahead of me. He has a bottle of cheap beer in his hand and he’s heading for the little picnic area across the road. As soon as he’s into the privacy of the park, he pops the bottle into his mouth, flicks the hand holding it and spits out the cap, which he picks up and puts in the bin. Then the bottle is back in the mouth and half drained in one gulp. All of this is done in seconds, while he keeps walking. He doesn’t look at me but walks over the bridge at speed, back to the riverbank and I pass him a bit later, sitting on his bench.

He disappears again as the weather turns nasty for the winter. I presume, or hope that he is in the shelter in town. There are few people around the park or down riverbank, except fellow dog walkers and those keeping fit. Then one day last week I’m looking at shampoo in a supermarket when I get a slight tap on my shoulder and an ‘excuse me’. I turn and it is the man.

“Oh hello,” he says, in surprise, followed by “it’s you.”

As usual I say hello and ask how he is. As usual he says ‘ok, thank you.’

In his hand is a bottle of cheap beer and he holds it up to show me.

“Can I borrow 20 cents?” he asks.

“Of course,” I answer and dig in my pocket for change. I have a load of coins and I give him the twenty cents.

“Do you need more?” I ask.

“No just this for this,” he says, holding the coin and the bottle up to show what he means, before adding a ‘thank you’ and heading off for the tills.

As I queue I see him slide into the dark evening. No repeat of the opening of the bottle with his teeth but he does put it inside the black jacket he’s had since the early winter. He looks healthy and I hope he’s got somewhere to go, somewhere warm where no one will bother him and where his gentle soul will find peace for the night.

It’s all anyone deserves.





Posted by John Verling

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