There’s a Philip Larkin poem (beautiful because true) to the effect that people make selflessness sound uplifting and inspiring and fulfilling, while in reality selfishness feels like sitting by the fireside with a good drink and good music and selflessness feels like hanging around a hospital waiting room in an ill-fitting suit. This will always be epitomised for me in the night I let a homeless man sleep on my floor.
I was behind the bar at the Great Welsh Beer Festival in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium, familiarising myself with my stock like any good publican, while faithfully observing the prime directive of not drinking more than you serve – which wasn’t saying much, admittedly, on a busy Saturday evening. I was also somewhat maudlin, having just heard on the grapevine that a girl I used to love had moved in with someone I used to think of as my best friend. I haven’t seen either of them in years, admittedly, but I was having a bad week and the news threw me into a state of abject romantic self-pity. After the festival finished, I was walking home through the park at about 3am, when I blurted out something like ‘Ah me! I am a most unhappy man!’ Here I was accosted by a friendly drunk sitting on a nearby tree stump. He graciously offered me a can of Stella – not my usual tipple, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth – and we treated each other to a litany of our respective woes: romantic desolation and homeless alcoholism. We hit it off so well, in fact, that on finding out he had nowhere to sleep it seemed the most natural thing in the world to offer him a spot on my living room floor for the night.
‘This never really happens,’ he said.
‘Really?’ I said. ‘Can’t think why.’
I staggered back home beside him, fished out my sleeping bag and roll mat from behind the sofa, and left him to it.
Waking up the morning after a good night out, there’s always a pleasant few minutes in which to unpick dream from reality and filter out what memories the tides of wine, ale, and spirits haven’t washed away. It’s this that determines whether I’ll be chuckling over great wit, silliness and conversation for the rest of the day, kicking myself for being such a vulgar idiot, or merely scratching my head and wondering how I got home, or some other enigma. There’s one girl I still can’t remember if I kissed on a night out or if I merely dreamt I did. I’ve never had the courage to ask her which.
I put it to you, said my newly reawakened Reason, that you let a homeless stranger and professed alcoholic sleep on your living room floor.
Surely not, said I. Alcohol makes me a complete idiot, to be sure, but surely not that much of an idiot.
I put it to you, said Reason, that you go and see for yourself.
I peeked into the living room. There was a homeless guy sleeping on my floor. I gulped. And went to take a shower.
By the time I was washed and dressed my guest was awake. Rhys – for such was his name – was in his late forties, and surprisingly well dressed. He wore a shirt, a white jacket and light jeans, none of them stained, his hair was orderly, his chin stubbly but not beyond the bounds of fashion. Aside from the fact that he was drinking his first beer of the day at eight o’clock in the morning, you wouldn’t have looked at him twice.
‘Do you want any tea?’ I asked.
‘No thank you.’ he said. ‘Sorry about the beer, but I need it. I’m an alcoholic.’
I nodded sagely, and set about fortifying myself with earl grey, toast and marmalade, after which things would presumably become easier to cope with. Having offered him hospitality, the main problem was how to get him out of the house without being rude. I looked out at the thickening downpour barraging the patio. At least I’d saved him from waking up in the middle of it.
Rhys fixed one of my drawers while I ate my breakfast, and was thankful for the night’s rest. He did have a USB stick on which he insisted on showing me pictures of his daughter, but his daughter turned out to be surprisingly hot.
‘She has beautiful eyes,’ I said, diplomatically.
When I left for the university he left with me, and we went our separate ways. He thanked me again for my drunken generosity; I advised him to try and kick the alcoholism, but I doubt I had much effect. I haven’t seen him again.
I got back to my house later and tidied up. Nothing was missing, nothing was stolen. I did need to mop out the bathroom, because he was somewhat inaccurate – but who among us can claim to be faultless in this regard? In despite of having done my good turn for the day in true boy scout fashion, I felt embarrassed, uncertain and awkward, and I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it again – but then I suppose that’s how everyone feels, all the way back to the good Samaritan and the man who fell among thieves.