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Him and her: a tale of two lost causes on redemption trail

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Himself will be the next buried

Himself will be the next buried

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Himself will be the next buried

Medication, drink, dope and thinking too much stole her looks away. The wrinkles on her face were a time line for every day she couldn't cope. Yet there was a time when every man fancied her.

And him: the first thing you do is to escape into a shop or dodge up a lane because you know he's going to ask for money. He was a few years behind me at school and his mother asked me to look out for him.

The kid was different, but nice, and there was no badness in him. Back then there were no special needs teachers to help out lads who fell behind at doing their lessons for no reason other than that was the way they were wired.

I'm pretty sure he was dyslexic as he had trouble with even the simplest piece of reading, but he could paint beautiful pictures. That was the way he thought, in pictures.

When the teacher asked him the capital of some foreign country he would just smile. Inside he must have felt so frustrated. That inner turmoil eventually turned to anger.

The crossest teacher would pull him out of his seat and try to slap knowledge into him. You could tell him a million times and he would still forget. Finally we taught him to remember the capital of Bulgaria.

We'd say, 'it's a thing you sit on watching the television.' He'd think for a second. 'Sofa, Keano. It's sofa.' There was a big cheer from all of us and he'd just smile in that shy way of his.

The last I heard of her was that she spent her days smoking dope, watching repeats of soaps and eating oven chips with down and outs in a squat in North London. "What will she do when I'm gone?" her ageing mother said to me one day. Then her mother had to get her barred from the house when her daughter turned violent. Not long after she left for London.

She comes from a town near ours and sometimes she would come over to sing for us.

There was a night, long ago, when the gorgeous girl with the rainbow slide in her auburn hair sang 'Summertime' in a hoarse voice. I asked her out. 'You wouldn't want to be going out with me,' she said. 'You don't know me. No one knows me, not even me.'I just put it down to too much drink, but somewhere deep down I knew she was telling me to stay away.

We lost touch. There were no mobiles back then and the money always stuck in the payphones. Several years went by and I met her on the platform of Heuston Station in Dublin. She told me her purse had been robbed and she had no money for the train home to Kerry.

The best looking girl I ever saw was gone to the bad. Her eyes darted about in her swollen head, like a little bird watching out for hawks.

She went off to get the ticket with the money I gave her, but never came back. It was one of her survival scams.

Meanwhile, the drink has damaged his liver and he will be dead in a few years. No-one tries to help him any more. Just the people, who have to, because it's their job. I feel guilty when I remember the smiling shy boy who never got in to fights.

The best plan we can think of is to be nice to people who are heading for trouble, but how can we save the whole world? You don't know where to start.

The last time I saw her, she was ranting out loud on the Tube about some lad called Ron from Richmond who beat her up. She was old and yellow as a newspaper left out on a window sill. The only bit of colour on her face was the bruising on her lips. I hid, hoping she wouldn't spot me, and slipped away at the next stop.

The news came through just the other day. The beautiful girl with the rainbow in her hair died alone in London. He's next for burying and there will be a good few hundred at the funeral.

Looking back on it now, there was probably a window of maybe a year or so when the two lost causes could have been saved, but we didn't try hard enough or commit for long enough. That's what it takes to keep the lost on the redemption trail. Maybe if we took on just one case.

The song of hope has no last verse and the love of one is as good as the love of one million.

Irish Independent