by Mike Baird

There’s a community of people I’ve come to know since my work shifted into the CBD. 

I meet them on my way to and from the coffee shop. They’re walking from somewhere to nowhere then from nowhere to somewhere. They’re colourful people.

Take Mr Green. Green sweatshirt over green track pants, carrying a child’s green umbrella, rain or shine. This attire is topped with a green cap, the type with a flap at the back to stop you getting a sunburnt neck. His lean body has a slight stoop as he takes his long, slow strides down the street.

Mr Purple is a bit more adventurous. Purple shirt and purple vest over black imitation leather trousers. His leather hat has a purple band encrusted with badges of every colour imaginable. He glances at me with a smile sometimes. I wonder if he recognises me as I do him.

Mrs Grey is a more fierce member of this community. Her grey, wiry hair spikes out in all directions from under her ancient cycle helmet as she pushes her equally ancient bicycle along the footpath. Her orange day-glow vest has long lost its glow, being a grey shade
of its original colour. Even the tone of her skin has a grey tinge. Occasionally she rides her bicycle but it seems when she does she actually moves slower. She mutters to herself with angry glances at everyone. Sometimes she bursts out and swears like a trooper. Children give Mrs Grey a wide berth.

Mr Black is dressed top to toe in . . . yes, black. He sits on the footpath, leaning up against a shop window with an empty paper cup in front of him. His stomach bulges over his trousers.

“Excuse me sir. Got any spare change?” always in an ingratiating, whiney voice.

“No, sorry.”

“Thank you sir. Have a nice day sir.”

Miss White has a long flowing white dress, white shoes and a floppy white hat over long straight hair. She has a fixed smile, always. Raining? A smile. Blazing heat? A smile. Noisy boy racer car passing by? A smile. Always white. Always smiling.

These rainbow people are challenging me, so my wife tells me. I suppose she’s right.

Once I heard someone call them “Deros”. In my ignorance I asked what that meant. “You know, derelicts”. I was shocked. Then I got angry. Labelling them stops them being human. Once they’re dehumanised we can dispose of them. Shift them out of the CBD. They’re keeping shoppers away. The CBD is dying because of them. They’re a nuisance, an eyesore, embarrassing.

One day, after being dared by my wife, I approached Mr Black. He was strategically squatting outside a bakery.

“Excuse me sir. Got any spare change?”

“No, sorry”.

EFTPOS only for this twenty-first century guy.

“But I can buy you something to eat. What would you like?”

I was thinking of the date scone I was about to purchase.

“Something with chicken.”

“Oh. OK, I’ll be back.”

Inside, the bakery had signs on the food cabinets.

“Food purchased here not exchanged for cash.”

The proprietors were wise to the ways of the street.

I came out with my date scone and Mr Black’s chicken sandwich. He placed the
sandwich straight into his pocket

“Thank you sir. God bless you sir.”

I started wondering where that chicken sandwich would end up, then
stopped. I’d done my bit, met my wife’s challenge and received a blessing. Fair
exchange. Let it rest at that.

There’s a kaleidoscope of colourful people outside my workplace. The world would be a duller place without them.

Mike Baird is a Catholic from Hamilton.

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