As I was returning from a morning reading the paper down Coogee Beach, I noticed a man on the brink of what looked like a heart attack. He was clenching his chest, wobbling over the footpath and heading to a tree which he gripped onto.
I felt my insides freeze up. I looked around the main street of Coogee to find that I was the only person in the immediate vicinity.
Panic. This one was mine. I rushed over to the man.
“Are you OK?” I asked. Clearly he wasn’t.
“Is it your chest?” I asked.
He grabbed onto me, his whole body was shaking, he was heavy.
I looked around for help.
“Will I call an ambulance?” I said.
“No, no,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I was freaked , grabbed my phone with one hand, ‘I’m calling an ambulance.”
“No, not an ambulance, just help me home,” he said shaking, leaning on me, pale as a ghost, stinking.
Somebody else was rushing to my aide. An American tourist with a busted nose. He asked the man some more questions. The man assured us he would be okay if we could just help him home. I held onto one side of the man, and the American tourist held the other side.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Just up here,” he stammered in an Irish accent.
So the Aussie, the Irishman and the American all walked slowly towards the house he referred to.
Luckily it was not far. As he went for his keys his hands shook so much he could not retrieve them.
“You’ll have to get them out of my pocket,” he said to the American tourist.
As it flung open a strong smell of what could only be described as stale urine greeted us. I was gagging on the inside. We took him over to a chair.
His house was filthy. As he sat down the American Tourist and I looked at each other.
“Should we call an ambulance?” I asked him.
“Look mate,” he said, “You need to see a doctor.”
“No, no Doctor,” he said. “Could you just get me a beer from the fridge love?” he said to me.
It became clear what the trouble was.
I looked around his house for signs of family members.
“Does anyone else live here?” I asked.
I went to the fridge containing one long neck of VB and not much else. I took it to the man whose shaking hands received it as though I was giving him water in the desert. He drank it full pelt.
Just like that his shaking subsided and colour returned to his cheeks.
“Have a seat,” he said to the American Tourist and I.
We looked at each other uncomfortably and sat down. Too concerned to leave the stranger, and unsure what to do next.
“What happened to your nose?” I asked the American Tourist.
‘Got belted at the Palace last night,” he said.
The Irishman laughed.
“Is it broken?” the Irishman asked.
“Big night out then?” I asked
“Huge, can’t even remember it,” the American tourist said.
“I’m a bit hungover myself,” I confessed.
At that moment it was as though the Universe was issuing me a tutorial on the evils of drinking.
That day as three strangers sat in a smelly house together I was face to face with the not-so-fun side of it. We all sat there together, hearing stories from each others lives, awkwardly for an hour. When we were as sure as we could be that the Irishman was OK we went our separate ways.
Every time I passed that house, I wondered if the Irishman was OK.
I still wonder.
It was one of those experiences so random I am sure it happened for a reason.
Three strangers in Coogee united in varying states of alcohol inflicted pain, never to meet again, but never to forget their meeting.
Have you ever met a stranger who changed the way you think about your life?