It was only around 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning but the overwhelming smell of alcohol was unmistakable. I don’t know if he hard started early or perhaps had over done it on Friday night. Perhaps it was both.
We were staking our claim on a good position to watch The Giants, part of the Perth Festival. Solomon came wandering along pulling a suitcase behind him. I assumed that his case held all his earthly belongings but assumptions can often be wrong.
He was a short, cheerful man. When he laughed, as he did often, he revealed his few remaining teeth. My guess is that the streets of Perth are is home. He approached me ready for a chat. He held out his hand and I shook it as he greeted me. It was the first of many times we’d shake hands during our conversation. His speech was at times garbled and almost unintelligible but at other times I’d catch bits and pieces of his story.
Solomon came to Australia quite some years ago. He’s from Ghana. He told me as much several times. He originally settled in Adelaide and studied for a Masters in Agriculture at Adelaide University. I tried to find out if he ever used his studies but I couldn’t understand his response.
He has three boys. Judging by Solomon’s age I imagine they’re grown now. I wonder if they know where their dad is. I wonder if he knows where they are. I asked how old they would be and he started telling me his eldest son is named Solomon Junior. His boys were born to a German woman in Adelaide.
Within a few minutes we had unpacked a fair bit of his story but I’m sure there was much, much more to tell.
Why did he leave Ghana? Why did he come to Australia? How long has called the streets home?
Then there are the deeper questions. What happened in his life to bring him to this point? Was there a traumatic life event that caused him to turn to drinking or was it his drinking that led to him to this point in life?
I wonder what lies in Solomon’s future. I wonder how deep the wounds are that lie beneath his cheerfulness. How is it that in such a rich country there are people living on the streets.
I also wonder how much more likely we’d be to provide help if we knew and understood some of the stories behind the homeless in our cities.
Meeting Solomon was a good reminder that we shouldn’t be too quick to make judgements and that there is much to be learned from hearing the stories that lie just under the surface of everyone we meet.
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