Sitting down on one of Falmouth bay’s docks, often sleeps a man with nowhere else to go. To most, he is nameless. To me, Kelsi Farrington, he told me his life on one cold afternoon and changed my perspective on life. This is his story:
I had sat down on the dock with two university friends. We had began to eat our lunch and were chatting quite loudly and unaware to the man sleeping on the bench behind us. It was only when he began mumbling that we realised he was there.
We had a glass-less window between us and this stranger, a barrier. As he sat up, his speech became more clear, he asked me for a light and I replied: “No sorry, sir, I don’t smoke.”
He proceeded then to make a joke about my hoodie, saying something like I didn’t look how he thought I would, he’d thought I was a boy and then realised I was not. I continued to eat my pasty, slightly offended.
He mumbled a bit more and my attention began to drift away, until he asked if I’d noticed his hand. I said “No”. He lifted it up, his fingerless-gloved hand. Missing were both his middle and ring finger. “Cooking” was his explanation for the losses. “Explosion.”
He laughed off the incident and I thought this was not something I’d somehow find funny, even years onwards if it had happened to me. My face was anguished, I knew that because I’d made it that way. He shook his head, this was nothing compared to what else he told…
“Falklands,” he said in an incredibly strong west country accent, “lost my two brothers.”
“Is why I’m missing part of me arm as well.” He exposed his wrist which donned a half-moon scar and was slightly disfigured. “Had countless surgery. Can’t feel a thing,” he laughed.
“And me eyes, blind in one.” He lifted his right index finger to his right eye. (I remember feeling guilty for having been offended earlier at the gender mix up). “Deaf as a doorknob here” and pointed at his right ear. This stranger sighed. And looked at his lap. Looked at his hands. Then looked at me.
He spoke continually for a few minutes and it was difficult to make out what he said. He turned his attention to my friends which allowed me to look at him more closely. He was an older man, in his late 60s I’d assume. Balding on the top of his head, his remaining hair was grey and sparse.
A green army coat kept him warm on this March afternoon and behind him was a bag which I’d imagine carried all of his possessions. He had been using this bag (full of hard objects) as a makeshift pillow. And used himself as a security mechanism for that bag. He had cloudy blue eyes and his beard was speckled with tints of ginger.
When he turned to speak to me again he spoke of a tattoo. “A black panther,” he said. “Have I shown you it?”
“No..you haven’t.” I replied.
“It’s my Sheila, my wife.” He sounded proud and a smirk appeared on his bearded face.
I smiled in return and knew a story was to follow. The story, I didn’t begin to guess.
“There she is, my Sheila.” A stamp-like tattoo of a black panther, teeth bared with clawed paws centred on the back of his right hand. I smiled, thinking there had to be a hidden meaning to the tattoo. And there was…
“She was coloured. Black.” He said, proudly. Something I didn’t expect to hear. “She was my wife. She was black, as it should be. That is how it should be.” Those words hit me like a blow to the stomach and tears began to form in my eyes. The sheer pride and love he blatantly had for this woman was etched on his weathered face.
He proceeded to speak of why white people and black people should be together. I was looking this man in the eye and kept quiet as he spoke with such indescribable determination to get across his message to us that “there’s too much racism in this country. Too much hatred.”
My stomach sank. He drifted off and I was scared to ask him to continue. He sort of left us for a while, and then he came back and looked into my eyes and told me about the night his wife, his Sheila was killed.
“We were squatting..big place…(his words began to mumble together)…We were sleeping…these police, they came in..they was shouting..and I shouted back…Sheila fought and fought..That was my Sheila.. They said I was scum, that we were wrong..Called her names..I lost it.. They hit me over the head… three and half years in a coma, I woke up with a dent in the back of my head and my Sheila dead. They’d taken her into a truck, and killed her. They took her..”
I was in shock. “I’m so sorry.”
He waved off my sympathy and said: “I ain’t got any hate in me..I sit here.. Day by day and I watch the river of life pass me by..” he said looking at Falmouth bay, “and I watch my enemies walk by me and I do nothing.”
“If they attack me, if they hurt me.. I’ll do nothing. You wanna know why? Because I don’t want to. I have no intention in this world to hurt anyone. And never will. See, in this life, you have to live on two things, morals and compassion. That’s all you’re given in this life that is useful.”
“I sit here and sometimes wonder if someone is going to attack me. Take all I own (he places his hand on his bag). But all I have in this world is in here (he puts his hand on his chest) and up here (taps his head gently). I’m not homeless because I want to be..and I’m not trying to preach to you to make you feel sorry for me.. But you remember, when times get hard and you think your life is its worst, you remember..There are people who have it worst than you.. Hell, some people have it worst than me. (He scoffs) But have no hate. I have no hate in my heart. No anger. No want to hurt a single person.”
“I have all I need in this world. I have food, I have my pension and I have good people like you to talk to. Who listen.” We didn’t notice two young men walking up the dock to come and sit with this man. They came to talk with him, gave him a cigarette and what we can only guess they would hear again for however many times they had before, the stories of this man.
I wanted to replay that day, to sit there again and take in all he had said. But what rang in my ears for hours afterwards were the words “That’s how it should be” and the image of Sheila fighting for her life.
All of his words have stuck with me days, even months, onwards.
So profound was this experience I thought it worth sharing. This man is remarkable and this man is homeless. He sits in various places in Falmouth and watches life go by. He doesn’t ask for money, all he asks is that you listen. He’s there as a simple reminder of what life is all about. How lucky you are, and what type of person you should be.
If ever in town, if ever you see him pass you by with his camouflage rucksack and his walking stick. Know he’s walked some of the hardest roads and climbed some of the highest mountains and yet still asks for nothing. Just company.
And I’d gladly sit on that dock, and share with him his harrowing story if ever I need a moment to sit and watch the river of life pass by, if ever he needs the company.