1. Disclaimers for Days.
First things first.
This is a personal true story… at least as far as I can remember.
Second things second.
For personal reasons, I will not use the real names of the characters involved in this story. Except for mine. This is simply to protect their identity in the unlikely event that what I say here may implicate them in any way, shape or form.
Now that I got that out of the way, can we continue?
Doesn’t really matter to be honest. You’re gonna read on anyway :D.
The story I am about to tell is based off an incident that happened to me two weeks ago. For some reason, it managed to leave a very significant impression on me. The impact was so strong that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I started writing about it then, but I’m Procrastination’s best customer.
This incident also opened my eyes to how fortunate I truly am. Despite how much I complain about my slow internet connection and my granny bike :D.
Also, my most loyal readers know how much I really love my wine/alcohol. So to help paint a vivid and honest picture, I was maybe twice as intoxicated when this incident happened. But for some reason, I happen to remember the most important moments. Maybe it’s just because they resulted in me crying as hardest as I ever did in my entire life. I don’t know 🤷. But I can tell you one thing. As a youngster in primary and secondary school in Cameroon, I had my fair share of correctional lashes. But not a single one resulted in me crying as hard as I did two weeks ago. Maybe it’s because it was entirely emotional. And had nothing to do with the physical.
Anyway, let’s get on to the story.
2. The Story.
November 15, 2018.
It was my friend Terry’s birthday. And despite our busy schedules, all 5 of us had gathered to have a few drinks in honor of him. We decided to catch up late at Izakaya Basement for a few drinks and to celebrate my boy hitting 26. Oh, and just to put it out there! If you ever visit Dublin city without making a stop at either Izakaya Basement or Tengu Basement at 1am, is there really any point to your visit?
Okay let’s continue :).
We had a few drinks at first. Then we proceeded unto the next topic on the menu. Which is complaining about the things we tolerate least at our various jobs. This went on for a little while as we gulped down a few more pints of Asahi Japanese beer. Then we had a conversation about how we were all really getting old. After that was the main event – hitting the dance floor under the influence of alcohol. This is where I shine. I don’t mean to blow my own horn (I guess I am). But I’m easily the most entertaining person on the dance floor when I drunk-dance. There is no shortage of imagination for me to work with. And my ‘Zone’ hits its peak at this point. Not even Michael Jackson, Fally Ipupa or Kida the Great can beat me at dancing when I’m drunk.
Okay. That was an unfunny joke. I know.
Anyway, this story really begins when our fun night in Izakaya is over. This is almost half 3 in the morning. Me, Adam, Terry and his younger brother found a nice street corner in the city centre and we all sat down. We were accompanied by a small group of random people we met at Izakaya. I don’t remember the exact details of how we met them… for obvious reasons.
Secluded from the watchful eyes of the morning Garda and any other possible kind of interruption, we drank a few bottles of cheap wine that we had bought earlier. Hell,we also made a lot of drunken noise. I think we were there for about two hours. I don’t remember. It was quite a cold night, but we were too drunk to care.
But then, my amazing night took an emotional turn for the worse once a frail homeless guy walked up to us. I could tell he was in his mid to late 30’s but he looked 60. He asked for a few cents. I told him I had none, then turned and continued chatting away with my friends. He left.
Shortly after, I turned around for some reason and I noticed this frail man was sitting in the corner. Not too far from us. Just about 15 metres. This was on the cobbled Cecilia Street in Dublin City’s Temple Bar area. I noticed he was shaking. So for some reason, I left my group of friends, and I walked over and sat down next to the man. I’m not sure why.
I started chatting with him. I don’t remember my opening line. But what I remembered clearly was the very exhausted, gaunt look on this man’s face. Life had clearly dealt him a bad hand. He talked to me about how he had become homeless and that he had been on the streets for years. After a while, he asked me what my name was. I told him my name was Derrick.
A brief look of shock settled on his face. It disappeared almost instantly, but I noticed it. I didn’t think much of it. I asked his name, which he told me, but I was too drunk to remember.
We then continued talking. Or should I say he continued talking. He told me he couldn’t remember the last time anyone had stopped to even ask him anything. He was always looked at as the lowest creature. One that could not amount to anything. Sometimes, he’d even want someone to just talk to him. Or ask a favour. It didn’t matter to him whether he was taken advantage of or not. He just wanted to be of use to someone. Anyone. I didn’t say a word, I just kept listening as he went on.
And then abruptly, he stopped and asked me if my name was Martin. I replied no. That my name was Derrick.
That brief look of shock from before appeared on his face again. Then he continued chatting away. I’m pretty sure we sat there for another 15 minutes, just talking. Shit, maybe it was an hour. I don’t know. But what I do know is that determining time spent becomes pretty subjective when you’re either focused, having fun, bored… or just drunk :). And during that time, he asked me a second time if my name was Martin. I insisted my name was Derrick.
We continued talking.
3. The Third Time
Nothing we spoke about was small talk. This man had a lot of things he wanted to make me understand. He had been through a lot of pain. And having someone just listen to him at least meant the world to him. But then, for some reason, I got visibly agitated when he asked me for the third time if my name was Martin. In a slightly bad-tempered manner, I told him my name was Derrick!
That was when the most unexpected thing happened.
This man started to hyper-ventilate right in front of me. He tried to get up to leave but couldn’t because he was shivering so much! Accepting defeat, he then curled up on the ground and then began to cry loudly.
It happened all too quick and too unexpectedly for me to react. I couldn’t process what was going on, everything was happening way too fast! My brain had shut down. So my body then took over. I knelt down beside him, and picked him up off the pavement and unto his knees. He weighed a gram. So light!, I thought to myself. I hugged him very tightly for what seemed like an entire minute. His shivering and crying didn’t stop, but I could feel he was beginning to compose himself.
I broke off the hug and held him by the shoulders. I had so many questions. But the very first thing I asked him was what his issue was. Why he began crying so much all of a sudden? Did he know me from somewhere? Was he scared of me? What exactly was it?
He looked back at me, and I could tell he was trying so hard not to cry anymore. He then went on to tell me that the name Derrick (Derek, Derick, Derik. Could be anyone of these) is a name he had been trying so hard to forget for about 30 years. And that in a strange way, he had managed to think less of the name in recent years, only for me to remind him. That was because as a young child, a certain man had raped him frequently. And that despite his best efforts to let his family know, no one ever believed him. For many years! He told me this man was called Derrick too. And that since he was violated, he had never been able to outrun those cruel memories since then.
By the time he finished explaining this to me, he was already drenched in tears. I hugged him again. And suddenly, I began to cry with him. I could not control my tears, and I’m usually good at keeping them at bay. The last time I remember crying was at least two years prior. But I was crying mostly tears of happiness then. This was after my grandad passed away.
Don’t get me wrong.
The tears of happiness then were for good reason. If I was to pass away, I hope I could at least go like Grandad did. He was sickly for a long time, and he knew his time was coming. He used that time to let his grandkids know that he would be leaving. I was at the other end of the world, but we had an extended final phone chat prior to his passing. He was always proud of me. He even used the little time left to re-establish old ties and forgive or apologise to those he wasn’t on good terms with. So when I was told that he had passed, I was more relieved that his immense pain was finally over and that he could rest.
I was also happy that he spoke to, and made peace with everyone else he cared about. His passing was not a crazy unexpected event or accident. You know, the kind of death that takes you by surprise. And leaves you regretting all the times you didn’t say or do the things you should have. We all saw it coming and braced ourselves. Still, I cried for an entire day when I heard he had passed.
But this time, it was different. I cried so hard for a complete stranger I barely even knew. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the fact that I had never listened to another traumatic experience this candid, this up-close and this personal. I know people who have been through some really rough shit. People who were forced to grow up despite being so young. People who will never look at the world the same way ever again. People that drove themselves to self-harm as a result of the things they’d seen and experienced. I have had my own fair share of pain and loss. Even death I still feel partly responsible for. But nothing anywhere near as traumatic as what this poor man must have felt. I hadn’t seen a grown man show me so much vulnerability in a very long time. So I guess that also took me by surprise.
I will never be able to fully understand what most people go through everyday. So the only tools I have are empathy and compassion. But as I hugged this homeless man whose name I do not remember, my tears couldn’t stop flowing. After I composed myself, I went over to get my bike or something. I don’t remember exactly why. But then I heard some loud noise behind me. I turned around only to see the homeless guy being heckled by one of the random people me and my friends had met at Izakaya. He kept screaming drunken things at the poor guy like ‘man up!’ and ‘stop crying.’
Immediately, I left my bike and ran up to him. I shoved him away so hard he staggered all the way back into my friend Adam. It was only then that I realised that birthday boy Terry and his brother had already left. I had completely forgotten that they had said their goodbyes shortly before the homeless guy came over to ask me for change.
Anyway. I was fuming. I’m not sure if a drunken, angry man in tears is any intimidating. But that was exactly what I looked like. I then squared up to this guy- the one bothering the homeless man. I was asking him very angrily why he was bullying the poor homeless man. To be honest, I don’t think I was asking. I was yelling a lot more. I remember yelling at him that he didn’t know anything about him, and that he had no fucking right to say the shit he was saying to him. I was enraged.
Look. I’m not a fighter, so I can’t throw a solid punch for shit! I would normally run like hell. But this time, I was ready to throw down with a guy that was clearly more sober and bigger than I was. Luckily, my friend Adam intervened at the right time and separated us from the face-off. I’m glad he did because I’m sure I would have been knocked the fuck out! Just like the poor guy that tried to get his bike back from Debo in the movie Friday.
I then turned around to talk to the homeless man. But he was gone!
I ran around the corner to try to find him. Nothing. I immediately ran back to my bike, hopped on it and started to look for him around the Temple Bar area. In my mind, I kept saying He couldn’t have gone that far. But my efforts to find him were fruitless. I then gave up and rode my bike home. All the way, I was crying as I couldn’t get him out of my head. I kept asking myself how I lost him. I also kept asking myself what I could have done different. For a brief moment, I regretted my name was Derrick. For just a brief moment.
I got home and my roommate was in the living room making breakfast. She was about to head to school. I couldn’t believe it was 7 am already! My roommate happens to be a very caring, 5oyr old Brazilian lady. And we get on so very well. As soon as she saw my face, she asked me if I wanted toast. No hi, no nothing. Just Do you want toast? I told her I wasn’t hungry. She then asked me if I had a good night out. I told her about how I was out for a friend’s birthday and then got to the part where I met the homeless fella. I then began to cry so uncontrollably I curled up and sat on the floor.
I had never done anything like this in my entire life. I also explained to her how my name triggered the worst memories in this random guy I had never met before. How I lost him. And how I wondered what he was doing and where he had disappeared off to. I felt bad for him. And I felt so guilty.
She listened patiently all through and helped me off the ground. Her English isn’t any good, since she’s just here in Dublin in order to learn the language. But she listened nonetheless. And with her best incomprehensible effort, she did try to comfort me. And she did enough to make me laugh again before I went upstairs to sleep.
I woke up 5 hours later. Hungover than a t-shirt on a drying line. But there was only one thing on my mind – to go online and join a volunteer group focused on helping the homeless in Dublin. I sent in my application to one of the biggest groups in the city. I was sent a registration package which I have since sent back. And right now, I am still eagerly awaiting their answer.
I don’t believe for one second that my meager effort at ‘volunteering’ will truly comfort ‘rough sleepers‘. Or improve their situation any time soon. But I do know that I can help a rough sleeper tolerate just one more night out here in these streets. That is all I want to do for now.
Because as an individual, I can only do so much. I am not ambitious enough to try to change the world. Because chances are the world might just change me instead (Narcos quote). If I can do much more later on, I will. It’s a cruel world out there. And ambitious people with good intentions usually end up succumbing to, and adopting the real, corrupt ways that actually shape our societies.
I want to help someone less fortunate than I am. Despite being an undocumented migrant in a foreign land, I have always been able to survive comfortably and respectably somewhat. I have a respectable job. I have a good home I pay for. I have great friends. And I have the greatest family. I have been able to create and maintain solid professional connections. All which have come to help me during my time of need. I also have a near natural talent for surrounding myself with good people.
But despite all these good things, I have usually lamented my inability to travel freely. I also complain a lot about the things I deserve, but don’t have. I have never experienced what it’s like to sleep on a pavement during the winter. I have never known what it’s like to have your innocence robbed without consent. Consistently! And I don’t believe that anyone would deliberately sleep rough during an Irish winter just for a little pocket change. Please feel free to let me know if you think otherwise. It would be really helpful to me.
There is so much I wanna add. But I will just stop here before this continues any longer than it should. If you’ve read this far, thank you for tolerating me. But then I want to know. Have you experienced something lately that made you try to redefine yourself? It doesn’t have to be anything intense. It just has to be significant enough to impact you personally. Let me know in the comments if any such thing comes to mind.
I love you. X