Tea and sympathy

I noticed the smell
Before seeing the man
As he first tried it on
With the girl by the sign

I kept gazing at trains
Sipping watery sludge
Barely conscious of movement
Of space, sound, or time

With my chilly feet aching
And feeling the burn
Having finished a shift
With the B.M.D. gang

And put up with the tourists
Mind set to ‘return’
In the crush and the waiting
Victoria Station

I wanted my pj’s
And something to scran
A reprieve from the knowledge
Tomorrow is Monday

A moment’s escape
From the hellish élan
That rises responding
To transport on Sunday

I sighed at his gait
As he soft-shoed along
Cursing hard-hearted kids
Under-dressed for the winter

His t-shirt encrusted
With layers of pong
That would shame to a beak
Even Marble Arch scroungers

He lurched to a halt
Far too close to my skin
And launched into his spiel
To upset and impress me

I felt little more
Than the usual pain
At the series of tricks
He employed just to press me

And tiring of lies
Moaned in flattening vowels
As he tried to appear
To be pitied before me

His simple demands
I did meet with a smile
Giving coin for some peace
That he hence might ignore me

But trotting away
The reprieve was a short one
I swayed on my feet
Craning necks to evade

In the hope they’d announce
Platform numbers for Sutton
No more on my journey
Might I be waylaid

The very same man
Rose, a vision before me
To launch the same dialogue
Over again

I tried to divert him
He strove to ignore me
“Just gave you a pound
For a tea!” I exclaimed

The man seemed offended
And told me more stories
His life had been hard
He was hardly to blame

A single commuter
Of kind disposition
Would hardly stand out
In the crowds of the day

His ‘few pints’ that evening
A hint at the blinder
Awaiting what money
I’d chosen to pay

As much as I might like
To give to the guy
Little hoping for comforts
Unknown and less useful

He steadfast, refusing
To catch at my eye
Made his bitterest mouthfuls
Taste much less than truthful

I listened again
To the tale he was spinning
Not worthy of one
Born to charity’s curse

But all I could offer
Returning the favour
More sympathy, tea
And a haven in verse

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