Continued from “One Night in Omagh” from the novel “Wooden Dancers” a work in progress…
Ryan had never bought into the simplistic Liverpool Manchester rivalry, it made him sick in a way. He actually liked Manchester, he’d spent happy days there – when in the Everton youth team he’d stayed at a house belonging to one of City’s young lads, a kind of foreign exchange for footballers. The boy’s family lived in a house in Prestwich, a huge house because it had to be because there were loads of them, Jewish. The boy, called Michael, was a good player, a right-winger and Ryan often wondered why he never quite made it. They’d kept in touch though, and last he heard Michael was running a business in town. That’s where Ryan planned to find him, but right now he was heading towards Deansgate Station because he remembered playing pool together in a pub called the Pig and Porcupine – if it still had a pool table that’s where Ryan might earn himself a few quid. But there was no pool table, there was no Pig and Porcupine, the Pig and Porcupine was now an Indian restaurant.
“Excuse me,” he said to a man in his sixties he guessed, well-dressed, “Do you know of a pub round here with a pool table?”
“A pool table?” said the man, urbanely, “Bit of a struggle I’m afraid.”
“OK,” said Ryan and would’ve moved on had the man not taken his arm.
“There was bar billiards in the Knott I recall,” he recalled, “but not any more.”
“Right,” said Ryan.
“I drink in the Deansgate mostly,” said the man, “the beer is cheap. I’m going there now.”
For some reason Ryan felt this was an invitation more than a statement of intent, and so, minutes later he was standing at the bar with this man.
“However I normally drink white wine,” he said, and politely ordered from the landlord whom he knew, “What’ll it be for you?”
“Guinness,” said Ryan, “thanks.”
“Cheers,” the man said as he found a seat in the corner and introduced himself as Chris.
“Ryan,” said Ryan and they shook hands, Chris with the firmness of a man used to business. And they talked, Chris explaining he lived in Castlefield in one of the first new developments of the past twenty years or so. He’d bought the flat when his marriage split up and hoped it was a sound investment but he wasn’t so sure now because there are apartment blocks going up every five minutes. He was once in the rag trade, owning a shirt factory and sold to the rich and famous all over the world. His wife went out with George Best before him – so in modern parlance she’d be a wag, he said, oddly proudly, and added that he was well shot of her but is happy to have two beautiful grown-up kids who visit him often.
“And what do you do Ryan?” he asked. Though he knew this was bound to come, Ryan felt uncomfortable, not wanting to say he was homeless, but said he was homeless.
“Really?” said Chris, astonished, “Well I must say you’re a smart young man to be living on the streets of Manchester.”
“I’ve only just arrived,” said Ryan, “I’m here to find a job and my dad.”
“Ah,” said Chris, “searching for a job and a father eh?”
“He lives here?”
“So I believe.”
“Perhaps I know him,” said Chris, “Do you have a picture perhaps?”
But Ryan said he didn’t, only in his mind, and Chris opined a picture might help, he could show it to people and ask do they know this man? Or copy it and put it out there, like they do, or the Evening News or Metro or on lamp posts or Missing Persons websites.
“I don’t have much to go on,” said Ryan, and Chris said his story was sad.
“No money I’m afraid,” Ryan confessed.
“Not to worry young man, this one’s on me as well.”
And so they drank another, over which Ryan gave his story about how he came to be homeless and was once a gifted footballer and his mum got killed by a car and his dad had gone missing, but he’d just had a stroke of luck when a girl called Rachael gave him a monkey.
“That’s a very kind young lady, you could’ve been anybody!” said Chris, then apologised he wasn’t being judgemental.
“It was a miracle,” said Ryan.
“Well I’m told they happen,” said Chris, “And when you find your father which I’m sure you will, that would be another one.”
“It would,” Ryan summed up, and amid the pause he looked at this man, once fit, strong and successful now perhaps not so, the leathery skin showing signs of age and stooping when he rose to get more drinks, leaving his keys on the table.
“What say we make this our last and I feed you some dinner?” he said on his return.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t,” he said, “but I can’t be outdone by this young lady in Formby. I like to be charitable and should add, by the way, that my invitation is in no way sexual, I used to make shirts and have never lifted them!” And with that he laughed and Ryan laughed too.
Chris’ apartment was in a block of three behind Deansgate Station a short walk away, a journey with commentary on how things have changed since he first moved in. It was in the last of the block and on the third floor, number 13, Ryan noticed. He also noticed it was locked with only one key.
“Only noodles and ping I’m afraid,” said Chris, “I only ever use the micro.”
“It’s a nice place,” said Ryan, gazing at the chrome furniture and the pictures of Chris in his younger days, a handsome man, and his kids, and even one of him with Muhammad Ali.
“Ah yes, he bought one of my shirts,” he said, “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. There we are, ping!”
Chris put down two plates on the kitchen breakfast bar and they sat to eat, Ryan suddenly realising he hadn’t eaten properly in days, since a bowl of cornflakes at Rachael’s house in Formby, so the simple fare of noodles with chicken was welcome and didn’t take much shifting. And they talked at length, Chris telling him all about his two children, both in their early thirties, one a lawyer the other a teacher living in Abersoch where he was going tomorrow to spend at least a week.
“No wine I’m afraid,” he said, having worked up a thirst.
“I’m afraid it does,” he corrected, “I never have a meal without wine, stupid of me, but I didn’t anticipate having guests. Perhaps when you’ve finished you’d be kind enough to go and get us a bottle or two? Not so good on the old legs nowadays. War wound I call it, though I’m too young to have served my country! And anyway I need the loo, bloody colitis!”
Emerging from the block with a full belly and an old Tesco bag Chris had given him on account of refusing to buy another, Ryan blinked at the sun bouncing off apartment windows and reflected that this was the second time in a few days he’d been trusted with money, and that strangers were more apt to be charitable than family, and it was to be neither underestimated nor abused.
“You were a long time,” said Chris.
“Hope you didn’t think I’d run off with your money,” said Ryan, taking a couple of bottles of white from the Tesco bag.
“I never so much as considered the idea,” said Chris, offended. “In fact I only have good ideas, and there’s one I want to share with you young man in fact.”
“Right?” said Ryan.
“I can’t have you sleeping in a shop doorway. I know we’re doing well with the weather but it gets damned chilly at night and it’s dangerous out there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. So you can stay here.”
“I’ve got a mate in Prestwich,” said Ryan.
“You can look him up tomorrow,” Chris insisted, “and more to that, you can stay here while I’m away at my daughter’s in Abersoch. Think of it as your HQ from where you’ll operate the search for your father. While I can think of it as someone to hold the fort, see the place doesn’t get burgled, it does happen you know? Now where’s that spare key?”
As he went off to one of the bedrooms, Ryan was speechless, marvelling again at the kindness of strangers, this act of generosity from an old old fella who barely knew him from Adam.
“There,” said Chris, “Your very own key. I trust you’ll look after the place for me? No wild parties and orgies, or crack dens I believe they call them? Good man. Now let’s open that wine.”
Laying down in the spare room that night, Ryan watched the city lights on the ceiling, enjoying the smoothness of this bed. He could hear the faint urban splash and the traffic and the rasping farts from the room nextdoor, and smiled to himself. But then his smile vanished as he thought of the trust he had abused, and felt ashamed that when Chris went to the loo he’d taken his key, and before going for the wine he’d ventured to the business end of Deansgate and had it cut. So he lay awake and kicking himself for planning to squat in the home of this kind old man who was giving him a roof anyway. So there was only one way to alleviate the horrible guilt he felt, look after his place and have it gleaming when he came back. That was what he decided and finally went to sleep, not knowing this night was to be the start of a very significant change in his life.
To be continued…