As he lay in the alley on a dark November evening Joe Walsh slept soundly under the sky covered in war card board boxes. Bang, crash, screams and shots woke Joe suddenly. He sat up half asleep and tried to figure out what had happened. Guns were fired and people were running with bags of money in their hands. It suddenly dawned on him there was a bank robbery. Coming up to Christmas was always the time for robberies but they usually weren’t so dramatic. Suddenly one of thieves was looking directly at him with a gun in his hand. He looked right through him. Joe had witnessed the robbers shed their masks and he could identify them. He even memorized the registration plate of the sliver BMW get away car. Joe laughed wryly he was invisible to the world but that was what he wanted all those years ago when he moved from Cork to Dublin. He was escaping his past life and mistakes but this hurt. The world looked at him and rejected him. His failed marriage and drinking was tough but not as tough as living on the streets. If only he had his old life back how he would do things differently, he thought. He would appreciate his own bed, home, wife and kids. His problem was he had an addictive personality, he drank too much he womanized too much.
Others did not want to see a drunk lying homeless in the gutter. He remembered how good the bankers had been allowing him sleep in their alley and in their doorway at night. He felt a moral duty to help them apprehend their robbers. He waited and waited to be interviewed by the police when they arrived but he was repeatedly ignored by all. He walked up to an officer and reported in a drunken slur that he witnessed the robbery and enquired was there a reward. He told him in a patronising tone to get lost. He was unsuitable for the job. It was official he was not good witness material. Suddenly the moral duty to help catch the thieves abandoned him. Dejected he walked away taking a large slug from his wine bottle and whispered obscenities under his breath.
Joe did not sleep well that night. The shooter with the strange tattoo on his hand haunted him in his nightmares. He rose from his cardboard bed and retrieved from the rubbish bin The Times newspaper. He read on the front page that the bank clerk had died of his gun shot wounds and The Bank of Dublin was offering a reward. He liked Sean he often gave him a few coins on his way to work for a hot drink or for a meal in the soup kitchen. He was a young lad with a newly married wife and young family. He was angry the poor guy never hurt anyone he did not deserve to die. The bile rose in Joe’s throat. The bank’s side alley was full of police forensically examining the place. Joe watched with interest in internal conflict wondering should he could he help the police. Would his testimony be rejected yet again? He took a Mc Donald’s napkin from his pocket and read it no he did not dream it he had recorded the car registration of the get away car and a picture of the shooter and the strange Medusa tattoo on his hand. Could he do this and earn a handsome reward and turn his life around? The reward would buy him a home, clothes, friends and all the privileges and security that came from money.
Once again he was on the outside looking in. He sat and reflected on his past womanizing and alcoholism that got him kicked out of home and fired from teaching. There were no answers at the bottom of a glass yet it held a horrible allure for him. His drinking was bigger than him. He broke his wife and kids hearts. He lost his job from turning up drunk to class. His parents disowned him. With no job he could get no address and so that prohibited from getting welfare and he ended up on the streets. He slept in door ways and when he was lucky he got a bed in a hostel. The streets were rough and he fought for survival and to retain his own patch and he had the scars to prove it. Over the years he lost contact with all friends and family. Last piece of news he heard was his wife had remarried. Still part of him loved the anonymity of the streets with no commitments. His marriage was rough but not as rough as living on the streets. He begged for money, drank wine and ate from rubbish bins. He lived in alleys in cardboard boxes. He washed in public toilets with cold water and soap. He owned only the clothes on his back. He looked a lot older than his fifty years. He knew it he had hit rock bottom he was a homeless man unloved and unwanted. He knew he had it all and he lost it all and ruined everything he touched but still he wept his addiction was bigger than him.
Could this be a blessing in surprise if he got the reward could he turn his life around and in doing so help poor dead Sean as well? But he was a failure he knew it and he did not want to embarrass his family he had lost touch with. The pain of his past life stung and he drank to forget it. No more tears he promised and made his decision and walked to the nearest police officer to record his statement. He was driven back to police head quarters and signed his formal written statement and lodged his claim to his €50,000 reward.
The thieves he identified through mug shots and the shooter with the Medusa tattoo on his hand. He placed the ringleader at the scene of the crime. He did give evidence in court and helped secured their convictions. With time he got his € 50,000 reward. He was a generous drunk and bought everybody drinks. He decided to rent a flat but he could not sleep on the bed it was too soft. He slept on the floor. He could not stop drinking and he paid no bills. All money was reserved for his drinking and his new found friends in the pub. Within 12 months he was sleeping on the streets again and penniless.
He travelled the streets with his Tesco trolley drinking happily until he collapsed one day at the soup kitchen. His soup was poisoned with rat poison. The Sullivan gang who he had helped put away for the bank robbery had put a hit on him from prison. Ironically there was so much poison in his soup that his body vomited and this saved his life. In the hospital he was put in detox and for the first time he had hope of getting well. The hospital chaplain helped secure him a bed in rehab. While in rehab his kids read his story and got in touch with him through the Salvation Army. They had to give him the 20 cent piece to ring his kids. He could not do it for himself but for the love of his kids he was determined to stay dry. After rehab he went to live with his adult kids. Although a poor man on welfare he had a home and family and fought alcoholism one day at a time. He was the happiest he ever remembered in his life.