I was walking up the main drag toward the outdoor shopping mall in the heart of Melbourne, hoping to cross paths with the friend I was to meet before I needed to call him for a location update, when I came upon a gathering of onlookers standing near the main crossing. They were clearly gawking at someone, but who that was didn’t grab my attention until I spied several lightly armed police officers holding a large, oafish man dressed in rags against a shop front window. He kept repeating something and I then wanted to know it was and why he was in this situation.
I lined myself up against the lamp post, more onlookers gathered in front of me, and watched intently as I took the phone from my pocket and began dialling my mate. The phone rang out and I noticed what the ragged man was wearing as the police officers took off his belt and untied his shoe laces to make sure he had no means to hang himself while riding in the back of the police van. Apprently these things happen and apparently he had on old sneakers, a baggy band t-shirt and a torn hooded jumper. His hair was unkempt, most likely had not been washed for days and was the colour of brown sand. His face was flushed and there were visible veins on his cheeks.
My friend called me back, he was one of the onlookers in the crowd in front. We didn’t need to say hello, we just started talking about the situation in front of us. The police then escorted the ragged man into the police van. From what I could tell he was yelling about some awful vindictive thing that had happened to him, spouting a short sentence followed by a single word repeated three times. It reminded me of Dog Day Afternoon. I didn’t really understand any of it other than the tone he took with repeating it. He was upset and the police were annoyed but quite careful not to hurt him in any way.
To our surprise, a woman appeared from behind the periphery wall of our vision, stating that this type of thing happened every other day in the Melbourne CBD as if it was a fact we needed to know because it seemed she assumed that we didn’t know much about the city at all. We grew up here. Maybe it was our clothes? She claimed to be a street performer and after a quick drag of her cigarette, affirmed that she knew the ragged man when we asked her about him. Unfortunately, she didn’t want to talk about him other than give details on where he could usually be found, and after that it was difficult to get another word in – a motor at the back of her throat had started as soon as we showed any intrest. It was kindness that kept us in front of her for the next three minutes, which is a long time when you’re watching the clock in front of you. I began to gesture that it was time for us to move and the conversation ended on a high note. We told her to stay out of trouble.
It was an interesting start to an afternoon that revolved around eating ramen.