One of the notably darker episodes of my adolescence actually concerns someone whom I had never even met. A solitary figure from my past, known displayed all the qualities one would associate with overall positive charisma, jubilation and charm. Any time of the day and throughout the week. This particular story with stay with me for life. It originates from my early teen years, when I’d hang around with Martin with an almost stringent regularity. But first, a brief history on the matter…
”The Manchester Man” we’d call him. An Irish, plucky, middle-aged man who’s only source of daily interaction appeared to be down the local bookies. Though at the same time, whereas I still cannot recall a single instance I'd spot him conversing with any of the wider community, nobody could deny his jovial spirit and characteristic laugh whenever he’d see you. I’d be chatting with Martin on my front porch (who also happened to live but a street way from me) and we’d hear his rapturous giggling from afar before even laying eyes on him. One could assume he’d won the pools on every visit up there! Passing us, he would bellow out in a loud croak:
“Man United all the way, fellows!”
Being nothing but little tearaway rascals at the time, my friend and I would holler back:
”You’re onto a winner again, mate! Keep going!”
A few fleeting comments later about his bubbly personality and we’d get back to discussing our usual fare. WWF wrestling, death metal and horror movies. Well, this scene repeated itself for many years to come. Decades, even. At least two anyways. “The Manchester Man’s” presence within our tight nit neighbourhood was one of tradition more than anything else. However, one late afternoon, coming back from a “hard” day’s work at school, all that was about to change. I bumped into him on the street. Nothing strange there. In fact, it was almost to be expected. However, this time he "approached" me. Yes, in just over twenty odd years of being considered nothing more than an object worthy of a passing comment, this had the makings of turning into an actual… conversation!
”Hey boyo.” he mumbled, though far from his usual self. Now, more subdued and apprehensive. I admit I was quite taken aback by his new role.
”You couldn’t spare us a fifteen, now. Could you, lad?”
The nervousness in his tone, immediately put me on edge. Skimping out on lunch that day, I had a folded fiver tucked away in my back pocket, but promptly decided upon letting it remain there for a duration until I saw fit.
”Sorry. I’ve got nothing on me.” I replied, placing two hands over both trouser pockets for added confirmation. I didn't even know how to address him. He shook his head in what seemed like serious distress.
”It’s OK, lad.” He murmured, before wandering off up the street. What a weird run-in, I remember thinking to myself. So much so that for the rest of the evening, I didn’t stop pondering over it until sleep called for me to retire to bed.
When someone you know, “does a 180”, as some of my friends aptly referred to it, the order of balance in your life has been disrupted. I mean, “The Manchester Man” not chortling down the street, doling out witty quips to whomever passed him by? Something was clearly amiss, but whatever it may be, I sincerely hoped he’d get things sorted.
Morning arrived and I had barely clambered out of bed when there was a rapid succession of knocks at the front door. Quickly getting changed in a matter of minutes, I ran downstairs to see who it was, only to find Martin staring back at me and looking quite unsettled.
”Man, what’s the matter with you?” I asked, now contemplating that possibly the whole world had turned insane since last evening.
He shoved a newspaper into my face that I hadn’t been aware of up until that point. And the very first “big shock” of my younger days, had slapped me across the face with all the might of an infuriated army drill instructor. There, on the front cover of “The Recorder” (our daily bugle of local affairs) was “The Manchester Man” smiling back at me. The short article below it recounted the horrifying details in relation to the photo.
At some point late last night, he had made his way to our local overground railway station, awaited for the next oncoming train and hurled himself in it’s path. The paper was “gracious” enough to inform the community that not much was left of him afterwards, therefore identification took some time. I was stunned to the core.
”Can you believe this shit?” Martin squealed back. ”He’s gone!”
”My God, mate.” I responded, visibly shaken by the unbelievable revelation. ”And I just saw him only yesterday. What in the hell drove him to do this?” Well, it was obvious we’d never find out. As it soon became common knowledge that in stark contrast to his outwardly cordial demeanour, he was quite the recluse with no direct family or friends.
Well, as the weeks rolled by, my friends discovered our peculiar run-in and mocked in dark humour as to how I’d somehow contributed to his suicide by not handing over that fiver. Though, of course I knew this was not the case. But upon reflection, he’ll remain one character from my childhood memories that I will never forget and always be sorely missed.
RIP, “The Manchester Man”…