He lay there motionless against the wall, backed into a corner and a sleeping bag.
It was late, past midnight, in the middle of London City in March.
I was just coming back from an event, he lay directly across from the hostel I was staying in.
I walked over, unsure of what would happen.
Asking him if he wanted some food and water that I had with me.
He wasn’t asleep, just preserving energy for the cold night ahead.
He accepted the food and the water and said thanks.
That’s not really why I was there, I could have left them beside him.
I was curious.
How did that man end up on this street?
So I did what any curious person should do, ask.
The story began matter of fact, void of the emotional narrative.
He had been there 3 weeks, it was freezing most nights.
He was waiting for a local homeless initiative to give him the thumbs up for a temporary lodging so he would walk there everyday.
Then he would walk back, maybe tomorrow the thumb would rise.
He had a friend who slept beside him and kept him company but he took too many drugs and moved off the streets and into a grave.
Now he was alone.
In a city of nearly 9 million people.
He picked that corner because the hostel, in fact I think the room I was staying in used to be his apartment.
He didn’t seem to mind.
Each sentence of his story revealed a little more, his emotions thawed out a little.
To see his old home within sight must have provided him with some good.
What he saw in front of him was behind him, a better life, memories.
He used to work in a school up the road as a caretaker, had done it for 20 years and loved it.
He used to be a boxer, originally from the suburbs of London.
Now he was facing his toughest fight.
He had a house, a wife and kids.
Until he didn’t.
One day he came home from work early, he sensed something was off.
He grabbed the baseball bat from under the stairs and started checking rooms.
The search started with the kids rooms and ended with his own room.
His wife and neighbour in the same bed.
The hurt husband with a baseball bat transferred the hurt to the neighbour and into a different bed.
In hospital with a fractured skull, leg and other injuries.
Memories carry emotions, I know because when he described the story I felt that anger come through him.
He went on the run for 3 months until he was caught and put behind bars for a number of years.
I asked him did he regret it.
He said no, angrily.
Where there is anger there is always pain underneath. – Eckhart Tolle
Now he was left on the streets with no home, partner or children in sight.
He told me of how he heard they moved to Manchester so he went there trying to find his once complete family.
Trying to find people avoiding you in a city the size of Manchester didn’t turn out as he intended.
Like a game of hide and seek where you are on and everyone just walked back inside, uninterested.
I asked him does he see any chance of having a functional relationship with his kids again.
He said his ex wife would have made sure they thought little of him, intending to closing that avenue for life.
He dropped his angry tone when he talked about potentially getting out of the situation he was in, seeing his kids once more and developing a relationship with them.
He still dreamt.
He looked tearful, but those tears turned to anger, the kind that had him in this situation in the first place.
I asked him what matters to him, what keeps him strong on these long lonely nights in the city of London.
The prospect of finding his children, wanting desperately to know they are doing well, safe and healthy, every parent’s dream I suppose.
Again a softening followed by another outburst, ‘If I find anyone who hurts my children I will smash their fucking heads in’.
I don’t know what he experienced in his own life, I got the sense it was not easy, anger seemed a recurrent them in his life and he seemed to have a lot of it.
Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.
He had beaten up a man who pushed his girlfriend in an off license that same week and ran from the police once more, he couldn’t control it.
Other police would come by often and give him hassle, searching him for drugs which he didn’t have.
One neighbour if you can have a neighbour without a home would give him food occasionally, it was his reminder that people still did care.
In return he caught someone trying to steal their car from the underground car park, they received the 1- 2 uniflu.
Protection and care acted from a place of anger, it doesn’t translate well.
Give yourself the right to have the negative feelings, they are natural, without giving yourself the right to act them out- Gabor Mate
Easier said than done, I don’t have a clue what it was like to be him, my conversation gave me better insight than none would.
I am not sure I wanted the full view, if I would have been able for it.
The thing is with anger is you can’t use it up, when you act on an emotion you don’t get rid of it you get more of it.
Behind anger is pain, the question is not why the anger, it’s why the pain.
I hadn’t earned the right to look there.
I hope he finds out and can heal.
I asked him for one favour at the end of our conversation at the end of the night.
I don’t know if I deserved a request but thought there was no harm in asking.
I asked him if he thought it was possible to focus on his children and the love he had for them when he felt that anger.
I don’t think I got a response, it wasn’t necessary anyway.
An hour in conversation with The Boxer and a lot learned from it.
I saw a glimpse of the softer side of him in that hour with him, underneath the anger, enough to know he was a good person who was in a difficult situation.
I hope someday he finds his kids and mends their relationship, that he finds a home and all the numb parts of him thaw out so he can be warm again.