Ambrose of Greek Street (memories of Soho 1970)

He lived too many floors from street level for his advanced years but Ambrose grew up in a time when one did not complain over loudly in case one’s right to complain be taken away.

The last Social Worker to visit had sported an Aldermaston CND badge on his lapel and an air of indifference that Ambrose took to be a sign that now was not the time to raise the topic of his hip vis-a-vis the six flights of rickety stairs. So he would soldier on and thank heaven that there was always Sunday and Johnny.

Ambrose considered his “friendship” with Johnny the junkie, and with a sigh, concluded that their relationship was akin to those between tiny birds who peck morsels from large carnivores.

Johnny was a teenage runaway who, not yet passed puberty and well short of 5ft tall, weighed in at 82lbs .The transaction was simple. On Sunday, he would cook a dinner for them both in exchange Johnny would help Ambrose into the bath and bathe him.

There had been a time when the indignity was real but now he would lay awake listening to the late night sound of Soho drift up to his rooms where red and blue neon light danced on his ceiling and imagine he could feel those young hands run over his cold loose skin. When he closed his eyes he could see the young junkie, stripped to the waist, soap and sponge in his hands, at the foot of his bed …he ached for the boy’s sensitive touch. Those magical fingertips, those taut sinews, and hairless torso seemed so wonderfully innocent and pure to Ambrose but he hated the purple and yellow bruises that waxed and waned on the boy’s arms  with each successive visit.

Once he’d watched as Johnny banged at his vein demanding it rise for his spike…but as the first deep red cloud bloodied the fix Ambrose shut his eyes tight and felt the cold air of Northern France on his face…his ears flooded with screams and explosions as his brothers lay around him, their blood seeping into the brown ankle deep mud in long river-like branches.

Johnny didn’t understand why Ambrose cried but thought it must be memories or stuff that old people think about?

Some times, as the rush cascaded through his soul, he found himself crying too but didn’t know why…only that it felt warm and when it stopped he had a feeling for the old geezer that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, which would lead to him hugging the old fool and would only then break down and rage about things long locked away…then Ambrose would stroke the boy’s hair “teens are a bad time for men” he’d say while wishing he too was blessed with failing memory.

 

Forty-five years later someone said a simple word that flicked a light switch in a tiny garret room in Soho and Johnny got a tiny sliver of his memory back, picked up his pen lest he should ever lose his old friend again.

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