A story by Algernon
Earlier the Organisation combined all the Sydney Offices into one at Parramatta. For me that meant moving from by base office in the city. I’d been travelling to the city for six and a half years.
Over that time I’d made many friends and acquaintances. I found that I was leaving 30 minutes earlier that I when I first started there but the evening bus was the same. There were many I’d come to know on that bus, we all got on at the first stop, had our own particular spot to sit and all got to know a bit about each other. One bus buddy was someone I’d worked with at a previous organisation and lives a few blocks away. Another the same, we cross paths professionally as well.
Each lunchtime I’d get a coffee at a café across the road from the office. Our office was in one of the cities iconic buildings with a food court underneath. Those in the café, knew the regulars by name, two of them were originally from Bali, though one has returned to have a baby. Returning to work this year, I greeted them Selamat Tahun Baru (Happy New Year), to their great delight, Apa kabar (How are you) they’d ask Baik-baik saja (all fine), I’d often reply or maybe just bagus (good) or tidak bagus (not fine) depending on the mood. I’d order a kopi susu besar (a large flat white, though this more correctly translates as a large milk coffee). Often those around would look at us somewhat bemused. We’d have a laugh together.
Same with lunch elsewhere same friendly acknowledgement, a quick look and one would always know what I was after, being a creature of habit. Often we’d have a team coffee at this particular outlet. Free coffees and lunch on the last day. These friendships albeit brief are missed.
About eighteen months before, I struck up a conversation with a homeless guy and gave him a few dollars. Hi I’m Jimmy he said, Algernon I replied. Jimmy seemed a bit different to many of the homeless who were begging on the street. He’d look everyone in the eye and thank you for anything he was given. He’d give you a hug for anything you gave him. He told me his story bit by bit. He’s 40 years old but looks older than that. Three years on the street does that you. He was working and living in a granny flat before he had an accident which left him with a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Unfortunately unable to work he lost his job and was unable to pay his rent. His main vice is coffee.
Most days I’d stop to talk to him for five minutes, we’d talk about sport; we’re both Manly fans or the cricket. We’d talk about many other things as well.
Ripping right through the middle of George Street the government are building a new tram line. Apparently this is meant to take several buses off the road and somehow transform this iconic road into a pedestrian paradise. Just what you want freely walking across the road dodging the 207 metre long electric suppository. These fabulous toy trains a third over budget and a year behind schedule will be as fast as a bus apparently.
Now opposite where Jimmy sits part of the road is closed, for 4-6 months so they say and 18 months later it’s still closed. Used for storage of things. Jimmy could tell you all the goings on for its construction.
As I got to know Jimmy there I found there were a whole community looking out for him, some would bring him coffee, others lunch and dinner, many like me would stop and chat. He’d try and spend a couple of nights off the street if he could. He told me that hostels and refuges were often violent and noisy places, not safe. If he could collect enough then a hotel. There was one in the Cross that he used to go to $90 a night, he’d get his clothes washed as well. New owners now and the price has gone up to be unaffordable. Nowadays it’s a local hotel at $105 a night. He camps out in other placed on other nights, keeping warm and dry is the important thing.
He’s also on a new start allowance, but as he has no permanent address he gets $120 a week with no rental assistance. The local council is looking to get the homeless into social housing but that can take a year or more. It’s ironic they cleaned out a camp in Martin Place earlier this year. A safe place for those that resided there.
This year, with our Mango Tree heaving, I asked him if he’d like some, he loves them, like having a bath. They were a bit green so he’d have them sorted to ripen up.
He didn’t miss much going on and looked out for some he felt were less fortunate than he. Even the ice addicts though there was only so much he could take. 50% of those on the street he reckons are ice addicts. Most who walked past him either ignored him or would say hello. One or two a day would give him a hard time. I witnessed that on a couple of occasions. You can pick them, head up their arses pricks, private school educated thinking the world owes them a living. You also watch what little self-esteem he has drop. Fortunately there are many who were there to build him up again.
On that last days we said our good byes, I told him that the organisation was moving a few weeks earlier. Our daily chats were something we both looked forward to. We had a longer conversation that day. Jimmy I said. “I’d like to give you a night’s accommodation”. He was almost in tears as was I. A big hug ensued as was his way. He spends part of his days sketching. He bent over and gave me one of his sketches. That meant a lot to me and something I’ll cherish as was his friendship.
I’ve not been back to that part of the city since. My hope is that I won’t see him there and he’s at long last got his housing and is able to rebuild his life.