Encounter on Trinity Way

Trinity Way is the unmarked border between Manchester and Salford. I used to walk through it on the way to my office job in central Manchester. You come off the Crescent and through a great brick aqueduct onto a three-lane road.

There’s often a few crazies hanging around the traffic islands, even at quarter to nine on a weekday morning. I regularly saw homeless guys staggering around with half-empty bottles of White Ace. One day, just as I’d crossed the border, I was approached by a young man with a shaved head and an anorak.

This guy came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got a blob of gel in your hair.’ I touched my hair and sure enough, my fingers came away sticky – I’m no good in the mornings. I said thanks, and the guy just stood there grinning, happy to have been able to point out a flaw in someone else’s appearance under a benevolent guise: a lot of people do this – have you noticed?

He made some disparaging comment about the hair gel and I considered saying something back, something like ‘Well, at least I’ve got all my own teeth’ – but I didn’t say anything because it would feel like mocking the afflicted. This guy was my age but his clothes looked dirty and used, his skin was pallid, his teeth really were falling out of his head. What I remember, though, were the eyes.

They were the eyes of someone who’d had the bottom of their life whipped out from under them. This guy had been through the mill – drugs, prison, homelessness, fuck knows what – and whatever had happened, it had taken his self, or his sense of it. There was nothing behind his eyes.

He asked me where I worked. I told him. He said that he worked for Jesus – he spoke with coherence and lucidity. I didn’t argue. I asked: what’s it like? Did the Son of God offer paid holidays? Flexitime? He laughed and said it was a twenty-four hour job. I didn’t know whether he was homeless, or living out of a hostel or what. He didn’t ask for money. We parted on friendly terms.

This happened a year ago. I’ve never known what to make of that conversation, and I set it down here for that reason. You could call the guy a fundamentalist – like I said, he had that look in his eyes. I got the impression that everything had been taken away and the first idea that came along had filled the gap – because ideology abhors a vaccuum.

I’m sure that after everything he’d been through, this man’s Christianity gave him a reason to get up in the morning. Marx acknowledged that religion brings people comfort. Until the twenty-first century, though, Marxists weren’t prepared to just leave it at that.

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