Once out of the car I saw my plan of walking the byway had been thwarted. Dogs, children and a large family were already ambling up the lane, and I knew it would be chaos to try to follow them. I set off another way instead, and as I now can clearly see, this was really meant to be the path I should follow.
On the corner I saw a stooped figure. His long grey straggly beard, grubby clothes and heavy backpack reflected who he was. As I approached, he stopped and almost fell into the bank. "Are you alright?" I asked him. "Not really" he said. I could see his skin had a grey and unhealthy pallor. "Do you have any water?" I said. "Yes, I'm alright" he replied "I've been to the Home, but they are useless - they won't even get you a Doctor"
I stood and watched him. I felt incapable, useless and incompetent.
In town I feel have some idea of what to do - at least, if I see a homeless person without food or drink, I will go and get them something. The other day a man was sitting hat-less, freezing on a bench, staring into space as the cold wind tugged at his thinning hair. I went off and bought him a hat. These things I can do. There are places to go and people to ask. When a man collapsed I ran to the pharmacy to get some help - they wouldn't come, they wouldn't leave their desk, but at least I felt I was doing something. It is never, ever enough, but it is something.
Out here amongst the Dragons, there are no shops, no pharmacies, no others to look to for help. I did not know what to do for the ailing man. No phone in my pocket - but then again who would I phone?
He got to his feet, struggling with his load. "You have so much to carry, my love" My words seemed so pointless. "It's so hard for you!"
"I'm trying to get to Landkey" he said.
"Well - there's just this little hill here, and then it's downhill all the way"
"I know" he said, "I've been there before" and he began to shuffle off, one foot in front of the other "I'll get there" he said into his beard.
I stood on the corner feeling utterly hopeless and helpless. "Good luck!" I said into the wind.
As I walked away my mind tumbled with anxieties. Should I at least have offered to carry his load to the top of the hill? Should I have got him to my car and driven him to where he wanted to go? Should I have brought him home to my house and given him some food? Should I have rung my own Doctor and insisted someone saw him? What should I have done, and what could I have done?
My fear of the unknown stood and blocked the path to my compassion to this fellow human being. I was afraid of him. What if he turned violent? What if he carried some disease that would infect me and my family? What if?
I do not know how to deal with people who do not conform. I have no skills, no tools, no understanding. I have an address and a national insurance number. I am a sheep, and sheep do not know what to do apart from follow other sheep. This means if I am ill I can make a call and get to see a Doctor, because I am part of the flock. This means I look and behave like every other middle aged woman, drifting through her final years drinking tea in cafes full of other middle aged women. This means my behaviour is acceptable to this place in which I find myself, and I am almost completely invisible in my conformity. My dullness means I cause no wrinkles on the fabric of society. I make no waves, cause no discord, leave no nasty dirty mark upon the clean, white sanitised surface of our so called democratic social infrastructure.
This homeless man doesn't have or want any of these things, and because he chooses personal freedom as opposed to collective subjugation, the rest of us reject and abandon him. He becomes the enemy because he will not join us.
The thing I regret the most is that I know in my heart I have missed an opportunity.
Who was he? What does he know? What things could he have told me that would have enriched my life?
I will never know because I was too scared to find out.