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A story about a tramp, riches to rags to riches and a fateful lottery ticket.
by Wendy Laing
The piece of paper was whisked around and through the surging peak hour hordes of humanity rushing up the railway station steps to catch a train home to their families for the weekend. Rain poured down as lightening flashed in the bleak sky. The loud rumblings of thunder rattled around the area. It was a cold, windy, miserable winter’s evening.
A pair of beady eyes watched the piece of paper as it blew into the gutter, then floated down the stream along the kerb. The eyes belonged to an elderly man tramp called Jo, one of the city’s many homeless people. There was no family for him to go home to. His ‘home’ was am old crate down one of the lanes near to the station.
He was sheltering from the sudden downpour, under the verandah that ran along the side of the station. Jo leaned up against one of the posts that supported the verandah. There were two good reasons for him to be there. Firstly, the post helped to keep him vertical, as he was perpetually drunk. Secondly, there was a rubbish bin strapped to this post, where he often found good pickings from exiting patrons from the nearby takeaway shop.
Although it was cold, windy and wet, he had been able to ‘scrounge’ a good meal from the bin. He’d managed to find a piece burger, chips and a half eaten roll. Someone’s gluttony had been his gain. He wore an old and heavy woollen army coat. It was his old coat, salvaged from the war. He hadn’t returned it when he was demobbed after serving his last tour of duty, mopping up the mess of Hiroshima. He blamed that last trip for his current alcoholism. He knelt down and retrieved the piece of paper as it floated past him. Another flash of lightening lit up the dark sky above,
shortly followed by a loud clap of thunder. The storm seemed to be centred right above him.
‘Shit!’ he exclaimed.
A lady, walking past, turned and glared at him. Jo tipped his hat at he and added,
‘Excuse me, my dear!’
She shook her head and sighed in resignation, then scurried off up the steps. Jo carefully wiped the piece of paper dry with tender care using his scruffy hanky. It was a fifty-dollar note!
‘Hell!’ he whispered, hoping no one had seen him retrieve it. They hadn’t. It was his for the taking.
Jo tried to mentally calculate in his fuzzy mind, how many bottles of cheap wine he could buy. It was going to be a good weekend after all! What a pity that he had eaten those scraps a few minutes earlier. Now he could afford to buy a ‘Big Mac!’
He swaggered down the street to the nearest bottle shop. Dollar signs lit up in his head. What luck! Maybe his dream of becoming rich was coming true !
‘Same bottle as usual Jo?’ asked the man behind the counter.
‘No, I’m buying two tonight,’ he croaked, proudly giving the note as payment. He then carefully counted the change, which he stowed into his tattered wallet.
‘That’s right Jo don’t spend your pension, all at once. Make sure you have a good feed tonight, for a change.’
Jo smiled back. Mick meant well. In fact, Mick was really his only ‘friend’. That’s if you call your bottle shop owner a friend. He had other so-called friends at the local Salvo Shelter. His army pension was sent there each week for him to collect.
The kind and friendly people who ran the shelter, made sure that he got a decent feed, and clean up when he visited. After his $50 windfall, he’d decided not to go to the shelter that night to collect his pension. It was a night for celebration and dreams of riches.
The rest of the evening became the usual blur of visions and the recurring nightmares of atom bombs, maimed bodies, groaning soldiers and finally an alcohol induced unconsciousness, which for Jo meant sleep, nestled in his crate.
It was broad daylight when the Saturday morning sounds of the city woke him. He quickly checked his wallet. Yes, the rest of the money was still there. He got up, then peed against the building wall further down the lane. Several street kids wandered past. They didn’t bother Jo. To them, he was what they didn’t want to become. Some of these ‘ferrals’ as Jo referred to them. Wouldn’t even reach Jo’s age. They were simply statistics. Jo was the ‘resident tramp’ of Flinders Street station. Regular city dwellers recognised him. At Christmas time, some of the nearby office workers showed their Christmas Spirit and gave him parcels of food and booze.
Jo leaned up against his favourite post next to the station steps, watching the morning crowds, coming in to shop. Saturday was a family day. He reminisced about his own childhood through the happy children who came with their parents into the city. It made him sad when anxious mothers pulled children away from him as if he were dirt. He’d have loved marriage and children of his own, but the war had changed all those dreams. He only had nightmares now of the atrocities and scenes remembered of his last tour of duty to Japan back in ’45.
It was time to get some more booze. His mouth was slavering for more. The rain had stopped, so he would be able to sit on the bench next to the river and have a
quiet tipple. As he came out of the bottle shop, he noticed the newspaper headlines, which leaned against the corner newsstand.
‘$10 million Lottery Jackpot tonight!’
‘Hell, with that sort of money, I’d buy a house with a swimming pool and fill
it with champagne and swim in it. If I drowned, I’d drown happy!’ he giggled to himself. Why not buy a ticket? It would only cost him two dollars. The rest of the money he would keep for his bottles.
Two minutes later, Jo entered the lottery shop next to the station. The woman standing behind the counter looked aghast at him, as if he was polluting the shop. Jo ignored her icy reception. He carefully counted the change in front of her.
‘I guess you won’t be registering this ticket sir, as we need a home address and phone number.’
‘No, I won’t be registering it,’ he replied politely.
‘Bitch!’ he thought. He noticed her staring at his bulging pockets. The top of a bottle protruded from each. He gave her a five-dollar note and waited for the ticket and change.
She glared back and thumped the lottery ticket down on the counter at him, almost snarling as he carefully held his position in the queue and counted his change.
‘Don’t want to be short-changed my dear!’ he snorted at her, then left.
What a wonderful weekend it was for Jo. Well, what he could remember about the weekend through his Monday morning alcoholic haze. He certainly remembered that he had plenty of money to pay for his booze and he’d actually bought a ‘Big Mac’ with the lot on Saturday night, before returning to the shelter of his beloved crate for another quiet bottle, and sleep.
Monday morning dawned with wet cold and miserable prospects. Jo relieved himself against his special section of the building wall in the lane. These days, his
bladder couldn’t wait until he reached the public toilets around the corner. He wasn’t feeling well either. His stomach ached and his chest felt tight.
‘Probably the bloody stomach ulcer playing up again!’ he thought as he swaggered down the lane and crossed the street to go to his favourite spot against the post, next to the bin.
The headlines on the newsstand seemed to jump out at him.
‘$10 million won by unknown person’
He lurched over to the stand and paid for the paper. The newspaper vendor nearly fell off his stool, as it was the first time that Jo had bought one.
‘Lucky sod, whoever he or she is eh?’ he remarked to Jo.
‘Yeah. It’s a hell of a lot of money!’ replied Jo.
His blurred eyes struggled to read the numbers. He pulled out the ticket from his wallet to compare the numbers. Lightening flashed in the grey morning sky, followed by an ominous rumble of thunder.
‘Shit!’ he croaked. His head was spinning. He could hardly breathe. The tightness in his chest turned into a fierce band of pain tearing him apart as he gasped,
‘It’s the winning ticket!’
The pain became unbearable. He tried to call out, but was suddenly giddy, weak and tired. He swayed on his feet, and staggered over to his favourite post, clutching onto it, then sank to his knees. He couldn’t breathe. He thought,
‘I’ve won! My dream’s come true ! I’ve bloody won! I’m a bloody millionaire! … Argh!” The pain overwhelmed him.
People walked past, pretending not to notice him. He was only a tramp, a drunk, a derelict, another statistic. Who cared? Rain started to pour down as Jo gasped his last breaths of life. The wind snatched the ticket slip from his now limp hand. His dying eyes saw the $10 million ticket land in the water-laden gutter. His soul left his body like a deep, sad sigh as the dream ticket disappeared forever down the storm water drain.
Wendy Laing © 1998
Site: Wendy Laing
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