Sunday, March 27, 2011

Story-A-Day #136: A True Story


March 28, 2000: 7:02pm GMT
The Old Pier Tavern, Somerset, England, UK

This is a true story…

I was sitting at the weathered wooden bar, and although I was surrounded by familiar faces, I was drinking by myself. I guess I was feeling a little lonely. I often did while I lived in England, even though I very rarely was. I found it very easy to meet new people and relished each new encounter, but sometimes the loneliness still crept in. I guess the bonds of family and childhood friends are things that cannot easily be replaced.

It was the day after my twenty-fifth birthday and I had wandered off from the Holiday Village where I worked, a crazy trailer park for the English elite, and along the seafront in Burnham-On-Sea. It was a quaint seaside village in Somerset, right across the Bristol Channel from Cardiff Wales, and it had been my home for nearly a year now. I liked it. I liked the people, and the atmosphere – and I suppose the different vibe of it all compared to my life in Northern Ontario.

I had stayed for a girl who didn’t stay for me. Admittedly, and regrettably, it was a typical move for me, one that I was seemingly destined to repeat ad nauseum over the years. I was quick to fall in love, and quicker still to be devastated by the inevitable collapse.

I ordered another pint of Fosters and thanked my former co-worker behind the bar. A regular named Simon, a labourer with a lightly salted ponytail who carried an intense aura of mystique, offered to pay for it and I greatly accepted with a tip of the pint. That is how the night had been going. I sat at the bar and my new friends and acquaintances bought me drinks, and despite being surrounded by their good intentions, I still felt that I was drinking alone. That was how I wanted it.

I was sitting there, slowly succumbing to the dull glow of inebriation, when I heard the pub door open behind me with a hermetic suction sound. I didn’t react, as it had opened with the same sound numerous times throughout the evening. When the landlord looked over and said, “Would someone get rid of him” though, I couldn’t resist.

A man stood in the doorway. A grizzled beard and mop of greasy hair framed his weathered face. He appeared hesitant to take another step forward and I couldn’t blame him, what with the unmasked hostility being directed his way. His name was Ernie and I had made his acquaintance on a number of late night rambles. Sometimes he would be wandering the seafront. Other times he would be hiding out under a cedar hedge in the cemetery. He was a strange, lonely man and I liked talking to him. On this particular day, it appeared that he wanted to talk to me. He stared across the room, right at me, and finally nodded his head.

I stood up and walked over to him. As I neared, I realized he had a package in his hand; a thick, disc shaped thing wrapped in a bright yellow dust cloth.

As I reached him, he cast his eyes towards the floor and held out the package.

“I looked for you yesterday, but you weren’t here,” Ernie said. I was confused. “I wanted to give you this for your birthday.”

I suddenly had a vague recollection of mentioning my birthday to Ernie during a late night (or early morning) chat back in February. “Thanks, Ernie,” I replied. “You didn’t have to…”

“I remembered that it was your birthday,” he interrupted. “Open it.”

I set the package down on a nearby table and carefully unwrapped it to reveal a brass pressure valve. I glanced back towards where Ernie had been standing, and realized that in my confusion, he had stepped back out the door.

I quickly made my way outside, foregoing my jacket, but Ernie had vanished into the night. I spent the next few weeks wandering around town and searching his usual haunts, but that was the last time I ever saw Ernie. I often wonder what became of him. Maybe he moved on to another town. Maybe he wandered out into the mudflats and disappeared beneath the briny sea. I liked to think that he found his way back to the family he mentioned occasionally, the one he loved so much.

I don’t know where Ernie is today, but I like to think he is in a better place. I like to think that he has found himself and that perhaps one day I will run into him again so that I can return to him the gift that he gave to me that day. The brass pressure valve is a token, and one of my most prized possessions. The real gift that he gave me was the true definition of happiness and friendship. Not bad for a homeless guy that most people were happy to step over and ignore. Ernie was a pretty special guy that way.

I miss you Ernie…

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