He’s a drunken, stinking, sobbing mess, dribbling biscuity saliva down his trousers as I beg him to please leave. "We can’t stay open while you’re in the building," I explain, "it’s unsafe. If you won’t leave, we’ll need to close while we call the police to remove you." He continues to weep, muttering about wanting to get close to God and how can we call ourselves ‘The Open Door’ if we kick him out and so on. But I’ve known him for a good decade now, and it doesn’t wash. Giving him a tissue I ask again, as sincerely as I know how, for him to leave. No go.
Step two: Standing up, I say to the drop-in co-ordinator, "We’ll have to close while we wait for the police to come and remove him. He won’t move himself." Finally, a reaction! He staggers to his feet and starts to slur out all his resentments (not least of which is the fact that we make him resentful which is not good for his sobriety!) so I walk to the door, taking his attention with me, hold it open, and invite him to step through it.
"Ooooh," he says, and chuckles. "You steppin’ me out?" (i.e. ‘You want to fight?’)
"Come on outside," I invite.
He comes up, goes through the door, and turns with his fists up. "No, I didn’t invite you out here to fight." I take his fists in my hands and hold them. "We just need to keep you and everyone else safe. We don’t want to have to call the police." I’m still holding his hands and we sit down on the outside bench. He tells me his plans to kill himself and asks if I’ll write his will for him. But I won’t let him come back into the building with me, and "anyway", I say, "I’m not going to do anything you could see as me saying that you can top yourself."
After a little I go back inside, finish my email, and realise that the play-group is about to finish; all the mother’s will be coming out with their kids. So I grab my hat and coat and go out to find him, staggering towards the corner. But the busiest intersection in town is right ahead of us. "Come for a walk with me," I say, hoping to get him to the relative safety of a park bench behind the supermarket.
He brightens up. "Ahhh, wa’s tha’ saying? Jus’ walk in fron’ o me?"
"Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow,
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead,
Just walk beside me
and be my friend."
I remember that one.
We get to the corner, and wait for the traffic together – until a woman on a large, black motorcycle cruises slowly past, and he staggers into the road roaring about the perfidy of Japanese motorcycles. He aims a kick at the tires, fortunately misses, and staggers on across, causing an off-road vehicle to slam on its brakes and traffic to back up into the intersection. I shake my head and wait for the traffic to clear, follow him across, and decide to settle for the seats here. He’s still muttering about motorcycles, so I sit down with my elbows on the back of the seat, and say "You know that all Triumphs and BMWs are made in China now, don’t you?"
He stops, looks at me, and mutters "gotta get the posture right for this one." He turns to face me, props his elbow on the seatback, and with sublime superciliousness asks "Are they now?"
I look at him and see my ridiculous self perfectly mirrored, and have to laugh; "I don’t know," I confess, "I just want to get at you for trying to kick someone over because of their bike!" We laugh together, until another of the town ratbags turns up.
"I’m looking after him today," he says, "he’s been drinking." In case I hadn’t noticed. I leave them to each other, but as I go, I tell them to keep my seat for me. I have a feeling I may need it again.