Old Nam Out
As I was running to get in from out of the downpour, I saw Old Nam walking up from the post office and going to stand under the awning of the café under the aqueduct. I’ve seen him around often enough–mostly unshaven, wearing a tired trilby and a battered American army coat–he would walk all over town. He did odd jobs for people. He was always pleasant. He would say good morning as he passed other men. He would tip his hat to little old ladies. I would see him helping someone push a car or changing a tire. Once I saw him walking a dog. He was laughing with some people outside of the bank as they stroked the dog. I heard him say that it was not his dog. The owner collapsed outside of the Four Seasons and had to be taken away to casualty that morning. The son had to get in the ambulance with the owner of the dog. Old Nam said he’d look after it for a bit.
They say he sleeps rough but he always looks as though he has somewhere to go. But he is out at all hours. Once, on my way home from the pub with some mates, I saw him intercept the unwanted attention of a group of rough men from a 13-year-old girl. What she was doing out at that time of night, no one knows. But she was vulnerable, we all agreed. We walked gingerly at a distance and watched in horror as the men inappropriately released an onslaught of jeers and jibes at the girl. But it was Old Nam walked over and told her to get off home. He got knocked around a bit by the three men but the girl got away. All we could manage was calling out and letting the men know we had called the police. They ran and Old Nam got looked at by paramedics.
Today, the rain was coming down hard. I called over to Old Nam. He came over and I beckoned to him to join me in the café. I ordered us some coffee and a sandwich. He said he could not pay. I told him that I could. He asked me if I had any jobs that “needed doing.” I said my only job was to find a story that day. I was on a deadline and I had done fuck all. He smiled and said he could help me out. He took a sip of his coffee warily, blew on it a bit then smiled at me.
“Still too hot?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. He looked at me and sat back a bit then said “Well. I am a scrawler that much is true. Working my way through the greasey word dumps–resent those so scheme. So Scheme they be so clever. I don’t run in those circles. Don’t got that company. They know how to get paid. They get paid but me won’t. Reason being I call me a scrawler. Got them stories. Thems sit and likes a listen. Are you a writer or a scrawler?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
” I know others like you. They won’t call theyselves a scrawler, though. Oh no. They is a writer. Proper. Scrawlers are more like storytellers weaving something out of nothing or making more out of something. Maybe be adding them some wizards and shit–Then making movies–Them’s clever and business-like. But not me. I live a bit and that’s it.”
Old Nam took a sip from his coffee and the food came. He smiled and took a bite. I looked outside and the rain seemed to have cleared the street.
“Is you a poet? I got some of that, too. But not that rapper shit. Them boys down Titchfield Park, they be rapping and called that art. Then I wonder if they be artists? Shit, I don’t know that. From all I heard artists say it ain’t art unless you go broke, or choke or get banged up, or starve. Hey, I done all that and I don’t be thinking me any old artist. I just sit and watch —-talk to thems that’ll listen— all them stories happening in front of me—and I scrawl them right here in this book. To be remembering. I’ll not abide scribbling against money. Not for these stories. I scrawl against art and that.”
We sat in silence for a bit as we ate. He looked around and waved at someone who waved back at him with unexpected joy. And I looked at Old Nam and asked myself all the questions I always ask about someone. He seemed to hear what was in my head.
“I thank you for sitting here with me. And for the coffee and sandwich. It’s a kind thing. So, you need a story? Ok. Now, let me tell you a story…”