“You can’t help me. I’m angry. So angry.” [final piece]

Harley still couldn’t remember where he lived, although we’d stood on the end of a street for a while as he stared at several houses. He said, “Ah, I’ll just keep walking, I’ll find my way home in the end. I really appreciate it.”

You can’t leave someone on their own, in the cold, with nowhere to go, although I realise I’ve left people sitting on street corners many times before. So me, Chris and Harley trudge unsteadily back to the train station to get him a taxi with Harley still insisting that we must be religious.

The station looks definitively closed – the last sleepy commuter probably stumbling out about an hour ago with a crumpled up copy of the London Standard and some other relic of travel – a multipack of fruit pastels bought to keep her from getting lonely waiting for a connecting train at Crewe. £3.49 but she had to have them.

Out of nowhere Harley starts a monologue.

“I’d like to be like you. I’m in a bad place. I haven’t got anyone.

“I’d like to do it but I can’t. I hate it – all of it. I can’t go back. I do believe it though.”

I look at him and I can see that he’s crying although he’s trying facing the pavement, still slightly hunched over under the weight of all the alcohol and God-knows-what-else that he’s taken tonight.

“It’s alright Harley. You’ll feel better about it in the morning. Look, I’ll give you my phone number.”

I hand him a screwed up little contact card – one of the ones left over from my course last year. Helen Perkins. Nottingham Freelance Journalist. My email. My mobile number. I wonder if he’ll hate me in the morning. Maybe he’ll think I’m some evil hack from the Daily Mail touring the North West to collect people’s sad stories for some dramatic two page spread on waifs and strays. He takes the card and stuffs it into his pocket.

“It makes me so angry. So angry. Do you understand? I’m so angry right now. I can’t tell you.”

Unable to console him and aware that he’s too drunk to be fully reasoned with, Chris goes and asks a nearby taxi driver if he can take our man to the street Harley has mentioned. The taxi driver looks less than impressed at me and an alcoholic with a bleeding head. He points about 200 yards away.

“It’s up there.”

Before we leave Harley on his street, determined to go through his front door alone, maybe still just sober enough to consider that we could be thieves or worse – Catholics – the three of us sit on the end of the wall of some memorial garden, on one end of the street which may or may not include Harley’s house, opposite a derelict pub and some sort of scout hut.

The stars are out; my hands have gone numb, it’s very quiet. Harley is still clinging to his bag of knock-off alcohol but he looks happy now and keeps telling me thank you – though I’m not really sure if what I’ve done this evening amounts to a good deed. I think of the hundreds of others wandering drunk and stigmatised in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, London, York. All without anyone to look out for them and labelled as crazy.

Harley talks about his family and he tells me he would like to meet up again and go for a coffee in town but he’s not sure if he can. He looks happy. He gives me a hug and I’m not sure if he’s shorter than me because he’s short or if he’s still struggling to balance. We talk about his brothers, his family in Leeds, his life in Lancaster. His hair is short and black and curly. He has a kind face and he laughs a lot. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold.

He makes a move to go and as my final motherly gesture I tell him in a stern voice that I won’t leave until I’ve seen him walk to the next lamppost without falling over in the road. The potential Lancaster Guardian headline still frightens me.

He laughs out. “I’m scared of you!” And then he goes, slowly into the dark still unsteady but sober enough to get home – if that’s where he’s heading to.

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