It was a cold Sunday night, very cold. I was protected inside the old Honda from last century that is my car but even that – and a halfhearted car heater turned to the hottest level – did not completely ease the bite of the wicked winter chill which danced around, ready to attack me as soon as I was ‘outside.’
I was driving to ‘Destination A’ (not important) but taking a bypass.
??I had a missed call on the pink mobile phone device which is not really my own phone but my roommate’s, whilst my deceased Iphone was getting fixed but again, not important.
I was parked along Geelong’s most famous street, or should I say prestigious street: the Esplanade. The place where millionaires hang out, the piece de la resistance of Geelong real estate, where estate agents would comfortably salivate over having a “For Sale” sign staked out the front of.
This is the epicenter of Geelong’s architecture, where “Toorak” style houses congregate amidst sleek new apartments boasting million dollar views, indoor dogs and only house plants for a backyard.
I was parked somewhere on Western Beach, where jumbo mansions etched by imposing gates and art deco apartments were slathered a kilometer or so before Rippleside park.
The night was dark, hiding the fact that this beautiful street boasted beauty on both sides of its asphalt 50 km a hour street: lovely water views on one side and historic houses on the other.
I was parked on the houses side, just parked.
The engine was turned off, no sneaky car-running-using-mobile-phone stuff, hold your houses before reporting me to the police!
I was talking on the phone, making plans to meet someone somewhere for dinner.
Where would we meet? What was open in Geelong this time of night, anyway?
There I was, like I’m sure you have been as well, deep in conversation on a mobile phone, whatever ‘deep in conversation’ means.
Imagine my surprise, imagine my shock, yes even my fear when I heard a knock at my car window.
My window, my driver’s side window.
A loud bang, a thud. All of a sudden I felt the world was in slow motion, like I was moving very slow, even in a dream.
I saw a man outside my window, probably about 40 years old. He was wearing a beanie and holding a flower, which may or may not been picked from one the surrounding ‘millionaires’’ garden.
As he banged on my window, my instinct told me to lock at my car locks. They weren’t locked, they were open, open enough for the wrong person to just open the door.
Who was going to open the door? Was it going to be him – or me – or none of us? Was I going to just click on the central locking and speed away, like an extra in a Quentin Tarentino movie, chugging away in my dodgy car from last century? (1990)
The ‘fight or flight’ choices did indeed run through my head but I chose the first, except there was no fighting. My fear was soon replaced with sadness, which you’ll see a bit later in the story.
The man was talking to me, mouthing something. He was making hand movements for me to wind down the window.
I looked at him and recognized him. He is a man who is in need in Geelong, someone I had seen at the Outpost. I had even served him and chatted with him. He was a nice guy.
But, on this deserted Esplanade Street on a Sunday night, with cars safely inside garages, not littering the front street, I was vulnerable. I couldn’t help it, I was a bit scared.
The window wouldn’t open fast enough so I opened the door, ajar, and spoke to him.
He held the red carnation – it was not a romantic gesture, it was obvious what the purpose was: “I come in peace.”
“Please, do you have a dollar?” he asked. “Or, even five dollars?” Hopeful.
Oh why, why – did I not get cash out that day?
I looked in my wallet, my handbag, the car’s parking money hiding place and I could find nothing. I had literally no cash on me.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t,” I said.
He looked at me like I was just another one of those people, people who may have just walked past him, driven past him, ignored or rejected his pleas for money, or food, or whatever it was.
His eyes – his eyes… I still see them, even now as I write this four days later. His eyes not only looked sad, they looked utterly betrayed.
“I’m sorry,” I called. Suddenly, I was sad, so sad. Suddenly, I felt bad for eating dinner and having a car and being ‘rich’ in this regard. In the biting cold air, I particularly felt sorry for having a warm house to go home to, with clean dry socks and a powerful split system heater.
He threw the flower down and walked away, moped away. His shoulders became stooped and his chin low as he became just a figure walking quickly on a deserted main street.
Suddenly, I couldn’t just go to Destination A. I was going to Destination B instead.
After gathering my thoughts, I did a U-turn and drove to an ATM, flew out of a car and received the crisp $20 bill the machine spurted out. Thank you.
I had a plan. Nervously, I drove back to where I was, where I talked to the guy and began to drive the streets looking for him.
I looked and drove but couldn’t see him. Maybe it was the dark, maybe he wasn’t to be found, maybe he was somewhere else.
I felt dejected, I felt sad. I just did.
Crisp $20 bill still with me, I drove away from the Esplanade and back onto Destination A.
This isn’t the sweetest story you’ll read, in fact it has an anticlimax and ends miserably. Don’t know where the homeless guy disappeared to, maybe I’ll see him again, maybe not.
Maybe giving money’s not the answer, maybe it is.
Whatever the case, whatever the answer, I saw it for myself: Geelong has people in need. Behind the scenes. Humans who are hungry, lonely and cold while others, including myself, are satisfied, in company and never horrifically cold.