Jim Jackson had had no nasty incidents and had received several of the usual drunken ‘Love You Street Pastors’, but he had already had a bonus tonight – a hug from a very pretty girl! As usual there were three of them out. Tonight he was with Marlene, their very experienced co-ordinator, and Andy who, after fifteen months was just finishing his training.
Jim had made up his mind that ‘Mercy’ was not, like most, simply drunk, but high on Coke or ‘Phet’ – he was talking so fast and covered so much ground. He’d started straight out saying he had read the Koran, The Bible and the Mahabharata and gesticulated both the smallness and the immensity of the creator, whatever it may be.
Marlene had tried to lighten things up by asking Mercy about his strange haircut and that got dealt with and out of the way with a cursory “Yeah, I wanted to do something with it, but I know you believe an intelligent force created all this.”
Andy posited a careful ‘yes’, looking across to Marlene whom he knew was a little nearer some of our Southern Belt friends on that one.
Standing aside to be available for other punters who may want Street Pastor support, Jim saw his colleagues approach Mercy’s shield from two angles. He was immediately kissed on the cheek and saw his assailant bob over to Marlene to offer the same, with an “I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops”.
She came back and appeared to be heading round the corner towards the Firkin with her mates, but reluctantly.
Jim opened his hands to her.
“I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops … I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops.”
“Mm. You said.”
“I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops.” She was very drunk droopy eyed and staggering.
She staggered over to the blank wall of the bank and faced up to it and the Heavens – ‘The Wailing Wall’, thought Jim.
Then she really did let out a wail “I really, really love me job”.
He gave her a little space, and some time, and as she brought her arms down from a supplicant position. He felt she had arrived at her decision to reveal all. “I think I get it,” Jim started, “what good are flip-flops to someone with a cut head.”
Her eyes narrowing, she gave him a really dirty look. She obviously felt he was totally stupid, but her words were lighter. “No. No. I love you. I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops. You cared for me. That’s all.” She turned away again, but she really was not going anywhere.
Jim thought of his counselling training and counted to ten. She was in good condition; didn’t look like she’d fallen at all, her clothes, skimpy as they were, were all in the right places; and best of all, despite being a tiny young woman, she was wearing sensible, almost flat shoes. He saw an opening. Pointing to the shoes he smiled “You won’t be wanting any flip-flops, tonight!”
She looked down and lost her balance a little, looked up and giggled. She gave Jim a proper once over then. What to tell him? Could she trust him?
Uncomfortable as this made him feel, Jim relaxed into her gaze. He hoped his posture said ‘You can trust me.’
She leaned in very close. She wasn’t sure if she’d told him yet: “I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops.” Then she glanced at the other two Pastors, now being grilled by Mercy and another ‘Stoner’ in fancy red and black striped pants. The young woman waved Jim a bit further away from them. “You mustn’t tell them.”
She stood straight and made a mighty effort to pull herself together.
Jim was feeling she had maybe arrived at making her confession. Bless me father…
“I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops, see. That’s it. You didn’t ask me anything. You didn’t tell me anything. You just gave me something and…” she threw her head back to swallow a sob “…and the next morning…” she turned to go away. She stopped and looked in her bag and eventually pulled out a giant hankie. Actually it was a scarf, but still she blew her nose on it. After wiping her eyes, she looked back at Jim, still open for her. She faced right up to him. She sobbed onto his shoulder “…and the next morning, I saw the floppers and I remembered…” No it was all too much. She bent right over and thinking she was about to head-butt the pavement Jim caught her.
She looked straight up “…I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops” – and roared a stage-whisper into his ear – “and I told you to fuck off.”
She cried. She cried openly. There it was. It was out.
“You’re sorry, though?” Jim felt a bit pathetic. It didn’t seem to be enough to offer.
It wasn’t enough. She hadn’t got enough out. He still didn’t even know her name. But then a priest doesn’t know who’s on the other side of the curtain. She didn’t know him, but she did acknowledge his uniform, his habit.
He decided it might help to get to know her a little bit more. “Have you still got the flip-flops?” Oh that was not the right opening. She looked at him as if he were not the one she was just speaking to. He’s pathetic. What a question. But she knew she was drunk. “I’m sorry. I’m a bit, very drunk. I shouldn’t really. I’ve got a very responsible job. Now you’re making me cry again. No, see… “ She pulled him even further away. Stripey-pants was giving a mime show with noises off, and Mercy, hands on hips, was the appreciative audience. Andy looked penned-in.
Jim looked back to little girl – yes more that than a woman – though he estimated her to be into her twenties.
“I’m a social worker, see, and I really shouldn’t get drunk, but I have to.”
Jim thought this might be the real sin she was getting round to. “You don’t think that we Pastors haven’t been there, done that. We know where you’re at. We aren’t judging that … anything.”
‘No you’re not,’ she thought. “And there’s more…” The little wave brought cheek to ear.
Jim had to suppress the memory of daft comedian Jimmy Cricket.
She continued, “I’m a Social Worker and you gave me flip-flops for a cut head!” she dug him in the ribs, seeing the funny side of this for the first time. She giggled, but stopped immediately remembering her serious purpose. “No-oo!” she squealed. “You did not ask me how I’d cut my head. You did not question me. She squeezed her eyes up tight and bashed the offending tears away. Now she faced him full-on, shoved bag up arm and planted hands on hips. Then she took a breath and became someone else.
“You don’t know me!” she cautioned, eyes narrowing, pointing like some kind of gangster. “If you come into the offices, you don’t know me. Yeah?”
Jim’s heart melted. He knew why he stands around market squares full of drunks at two o’clock in the morning. He already knew, but now he knew. He opened his eyes fully to try to hold back the tears… and waited.
She put up a finger, “I’ve just qualified as a Social Worker after three years training,” and looking up to heaven she cried, she wept “I ab-so-lutely love my job.” It was all Jim could do to simply steady her. She wasn’t a drunk, she was a very repentant sinner. She continued completely soberly, “Just over three years ago, I cut my head and you gave me flip-flops.” She nodded. “You didn’t ask if I’d cut me ‘ead falling, in – the – fight – I – had – started! You did not want to know why, or how. If you had, I wouldn’t be a Social Worker now. I woulda got a record.” She gave him another gentle kiss on the cheek.
She closed her eyes, pursed her lips, and nodded studiously like a nursery school-kid.
“ You believe in forgiveness?”
She took a quick peep, then nodded again.
Then she shook her head and stood up to Jim with a finger wagging “Don’t preach to me!”
Jim knew he didn’t need to and said so. “You know you’re forgiven, though?”
She swept away and Jim’s arms went out, but she was steady.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your name?”
She had a think. “Mickie.” She had another think. “Now I do.”
“Better get on over to the Firkin before lock down, Mickie. Don’t lose your mates.” She took the three steps to the corner and was gone, taking a chunk of Jim’s heart with her.
Then she realised, and popped it back round to him with a finger, a nod and a wink.