I’ve just finished a placement at Merseyside BioBank. This is not the topic of this post, but it’s noteworthy enough to mention – and it was great fun. I might come back to that later. Likewise – I have moved, and now am in the middle of the city centre “where all the yuppies live” according to K., sharing with P., who’s on the couch drinking tea as I write this. He’s reading Hong-Kingston’s Woman Warrior on my recommendation; I finished Steinbeck’s Cannery Row last night on his recommendation) . I am sure the apartment will be introduced in more detail, later, too. It is overlooking Williamson Square, partially, and offers a wonderful opportunity to observe inner city life.
And Liverpool – for me – comes alive not through its architecture, but its people. An openness and acceptance of just being, just as you are, that I find unique among the cities I lived in. So this is what I’ll focus on here, a few select encounters, all recent, that stuck to memory. I’ve had these experiences of people sharing a lot about their lives to me, as a stranger, at times in the past, but it happens more often and more consistent here. I may be asking for it, of course, making a point of looking at people and making eye-contact while walking through town, but still. These being from memory by definition means they are inaccurate.
It is around 8:50 in the morning. No rain, but partially cloudy. I am on my way to work. I’m also in the middle of moving. My parents are over, visiting, primarily and officially to bring my new passport and ID card. I’d travelled to Germany late June to fill out the paperwork required to renew these, and returned using a temporary passport. I am carrying all my music instruments, planning to drop them at the apartment this afternoon. My train leaves at Edge Hill, now a tiny train stations with either an energetic and friendly employee or, in the evening, a lethargic, grumpy one, with dark rings under his eyes, on duty. It used to be one of the major stations in Liverpool, before that last hillside was cut through to the centre of the town, allowing for Lime Street Station to take over. When I enter the station building the more energetic of the two was in a discussion with a man (carrying two plastic bags) who’d just missed his train. The customer trailed off, I got my tickets, went out to the tracks, rounding the back of the station building to catch the train toward Warrington, which would drop me off at Broad Green.
Plastic-bag man eventually made his way over, asking about all the music instruments I was carrying. He thought that electric guitars have a nicer sound then acoustics. Asked if I am in a band. Then told me that he’d walked all the way from Wavertree (I didn’t ask why, there’s a train station close-by there) to Edge Hill, and just about missed his train. That he could see it depart. And that he’d wanted to kill himself by standing on the train tracks a few days ago. That he was staying with two women, but loved another, whom he was on the way to, but who had thrown him out not long ago. As far as I’d gathered they are back together. He also told me that he couldn’t sleep, and that’s the reason he wanted to die, seeking reaffirmation that it really is the best thing to just go to the doctor. He told me that they were taking his clothes at night, locking them away, so that he wouldn’t dare going outside, naked. My train arrived, eventually, and we said goodbyes. He told me to join a band. And that he’d be on the look out to see me on TV, should I become a famous musician (I never told him I am not really aiming to make music professionally, or, really, consider myself a musician. He didn’t ask.). He walked back to the bench, sitting down, waiting patiently for the next train, that would take him back to life, I hope.
This time it’s sunny. Bright light, few clouds. I don’t remember what exactly I’d come to town for, that day, but it wasn’t anything urgent. This was before the episode above. Maybe two weeks earlier, maybe more. I’ve passed the bus stands in front of St. John’s just about to walk down the steps in the middle of town, close to the BBC’s big TV screen. A woman stops me, as I am just about to pass her. Middle-aged, stepping out of a crowd of people, with a man of indiscernible age, his head shaven, obviously belonging to her, struggling to keep up. “Hi. Do you know where one can find an adult shop here?” I don’t, really. I send them to Bold Street area, suggesting they might find some there, or that at least someone might know around that area. I’d never been on the lookout for shops like these, since I’ve moved here. Now, of course, the way my mind works, weeks after, I notice how many there are, and in how many different places. There actually are a few not that far off of Bold Street.
K. needs a favour. Someone stole her passport and credit card in Athens. She never changed her address with the bank. So I am off to see if someone in that house I lived in, temporarily, for those two weeks waiting for my apartment to be ready, is in. No-one is. I am to ask the people in that student house to hold onto any letters for her. She used to live there, for a while, too. I sit down on the porch to write a note for them. A black man walks past, stops, and asks me where he has seen me before. I don’t really know, but I don’t really negate that I might have met him somewhere before, either. I am no good with faces, not quite as bad as with names, but I tend to pass people I should know, easily. He tells me he has been in jail, that one learns to remember faces whilst there. He sits down on what is the wall that used to fence in the front-garden. He tells me he’s hit hard times. He’s been released from prison not long ago. They put an electronic tag on him. He lifts his trouser’s leg to show me. People treat him badly. Distrust him. He ain’t ever asked for anything. His loneliness, his desperation of not being able to get a sure footing seeps out. Of well – being treated with disdain. The police gave him a house to live in after prison. He ain’t ever asked for anything. Six years he’s been in. He’d had a girlfriend, been faithful to her, cared for her. She is with someone else. Has been already while he was in prison. That broke his heart. A police car comes round the corner, passes by. (I’d guess they are able to track these electronic tags, right?). He watches them pass. He ain’t ever asked for anything. He tells me that he has to be home by seven, or that there’ll be problems. That he hadn’t had anything to eat today, nor a cigarette. He asks if I smoke, watching the police car all the time, noting it had slowed down, turned into a side street. I think they’ll come back to look at me, he says, they do. He says he remembers the riots in the 80s. Everyone screaming murder, including the Police. How his brother was beaten up. His brother has a scar all the way down his head. He ain’t ever asked for anything. There might be jobs on the weekend, but during the week, no-one needs him. I give him the two pounds he’s been waiting for. I get a promise that he’ll pay me back, once he has money. Tells me that he’s often walking along this street. I don’t care if he lied or not, he was genuine enough. I haven’t a lot of reasons to be in that area of town often, but who knows. He may really do remember faces well and I might meet him – somewhere – once more.