He looks at me. He’s a stranger in a washed out blue shirt sitting on a bench drinking behind a friend and I at the pub. “You fucking gay or something?” He asks. It takes a moment for me to process the words.
“Well, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
He takes my answer as a lie and keeps drinking his beer. Eventually my friend leaves. “Want a beer?” I ask the man. He nods. I get two beers and sit down at his bench. I pour him one and he thanks me, no eye contact. We start talking. His name is Ryan. He’s a long time alcoholic and has been drinking for as long as he can remember. A schooner of beer is as much a part of his life as breakfast or dinner. He says that it’s never taken him to hospital, but he hasn’t paid the doctor a visit in 12 years. I ask if he’s worried. He says life will take him whenever it wants to. “The doctors can’t change that.”
Ryan has eleven children to two women. He says raising kids is hard but he wouldn’t change a thing. I ask him if having a child really is the happiest moment of a person’s life. “Stupid question,” he barks. “Of course it is.” He says that bringing life into the world makes up for all the shitty things that happen over time, and that if it wasn’t for his kids, he might not be around to have this beer with me.
I ask if I can take a photo of him. He looks down at the ground then back up at me. “You can,” he says, “but I’m sorry about all this shit,” and points to the scars on his face. For a moment or two, his hand hovers over them, as if to cover up his character – the things that make him who he is. Ryan tells me the biggest scar put him in jail and that’s where he spent two years. He says he made mistakes, but that’s just the human inside crawling out. “We all make mistakes,” I say. He smiles for the first time since we started talking. “Yeah, I guess we do.”
We finish the beer and get another one. He apologises for calling me gay and says he didn’t mean anything by it. Ryan says old school folk like him have a funny way of doing things sometimes. He says that it’s hard to keep up with trends and he feels out of touch, which hurts sometimes. He tells me he doesn’t even understand phones anymore. “They’re simple enough,” I say and he shakes his head. He’s got 5GB of data on his phone that he never uses. I tell him to browse the internet more. He asks me what the internet is. We both smile.
“Am I your mate?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
He’s not looking at me, just down at the ground. “Well, am I your mate?”
“If you want to be mates, sure.”
“It’s important to have mates, and I don’t have many anymore.”
“I think at one point or another, I forgot how important they are, then they just kinda disappeared.”
“Well, we’re mates,” I say. He smiles again and we raise our glasses.
Before I leave, Ryan stands up, looks me in the eye and shakes my hand. He says, “You’re a real good bloke, you know that?” I say we’ll share another if we cross paths again. He laughs and says he won’t be around for long and I wonder exactly what that means.
I get back to the office and sit in a comfortable room with familiar faces, but I’m still thinking about Ryan. He taught me that nothing in life matters more than the relationships you build along the way. He proved that whether you’re sitting across from someone who’s opened up the deepest crevices of their heart, or simply sharing a beer with a stranger, you owe a little debt of gratitude to that human.
You owe them a part of you, simply for interacting with you on a level that you might just remember when you’re rotting away, laying on your deathbed.
Written by Sammy Attwood. He used to run YFH. Photo by carly_vous