Let me recount the story of when a homeless man crashed a friend and mine’s casual evening at a pub.
Greyson, a Filipino-American from Southern California, and I had just partaken – rather, witnessed – a far-right wing rally in Wroclaw before visiting one of our favourite bars in Wroclaw. It is an old-timey place adorned with pre-war antiques and old furniture, not to mention cheap beer and vodka.
With St. Elizabeth’s church towering behind our backs and a calm May evening warmth embracing us, we guzzled the first round of beers, funded by me. Greyson went to retrieve our second round just as the evening crowds were growing and occupying the bar.
Standing out from the regular nightly crowd – a lovely blend of two-parts Poles, one part Europeans in general – was a dusty homeless man. Now, these men parole the streets in numbers in Wrocław, so the site of one was not uncommon. I paid not much attention to him apart from the fact that he stopped nearly directly in my line of site and pulled out a comb to smooth out his greasy grey hair. Like the patrons around him, he, too, must have been intent to impress others.
Greyson returned with not just one round of beers but an additional round as well. The mathematician student acutely planned to order the third round ahead of time, being alert of the growing queue. He passed the homeless man, unaware of his presence, and sat down. We clinked raised glasses in honour of Poland (or something like that) and sipped on our beers. It was to be a moment to be experienced care free, yet the visual presence of the homeless man latched a mental barrier to me. A growing anxiety of him coming over to ask for a handout grew within me.
Alas, as he was combing his hair and looking at himself in the reflection of the pub window, he spotted us. He turned, sheathed his comb, and, exceeding my previously-stated anxieties, sat down.
Without a word, not even in his native Polish, the man reached for one of the two remaining un-drunk beers and proceeded to make that un-drunk beer partially drunk.
Lightly appalled yet with a light shrug of “yeah, this is Poland,” Greyson and I waited to hear from the man.
He began to speak in Polish. As usual with his countrymen, what he was saying was long-winded. I had to interrupt him. In my best broken Polish, I replied that we are not Polish, sorry.
Stumbling through his broken English, the man asked “Who-? From where-? are you?”
“America,” and our respective homes, we responded.
He sat back in his chair, eyes widening, and his hand smacking his forehead. “Oh, kurwa,” he said. “America? You are America?”
“That is magic,” he said, shaking head, taking another slurp of beer. Greyson and I, growing more incredulous by the second, could only nod our heads to affirm him correct to incredulously finding Americans to talk to.
The man then perked up and began to talk about a slew of things in English, perhaps translating what he had spoken in Polish earlier. “Leicester City. That is my team. They are the best.”
“Oh, you are a Leicester City supporter?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “They are champions.”
Being early in May and thus late in football seasons across Europe, Leicester City of the English Premier League were only at the doorstep of their historic title security. He seemingly had great confidence the team would see the crown through.
“It’s not Manchester. Not Arsenal. Liverpool,” he continued, throwing a dismissive and disgusted hand at each club.
“They are a great team,” I said.
“Yes. You see the church?” he pointed behind us. “That is my church. Bóg is my love.”
“God is your love?” I confirmed. “That’s great.”
It was time to switch up the conversation; time for me to crack out my Polish.
“Jak czy pracujesz?” I asked, misprononounce-iently.
He replied that he worked as an electrician of some sort. Doubtingly this was his current job.
I wanted to ask where he was from: “Skąd jesteś?”
He raised both arms in the air as if to embrace the city. “Wrocław!”
“To jest najlepsze miasto,” I said, praising Wrocław to be the best city in Poland. Greyson nodded in agreement, raising a glass to our love for the western Polish city.
Our conversation broke in and out of English and elementary Polish. He would rephrase his admiration for Leicester City from time to time and was also careful to point out to us where the “ladies of the night hang out.” Nie dziękujemy, Greyson and I said, declining his advice.
It occured to me that I had failed to ask a very basic question: What is your name?
Here, then, comes confusion.
His first name escapes me; it is lost in the recesses of my mind. But his surname came out as “Kozel-szewski.“ Thanks to great Czech beer marketing, I knew that kozel (koza) is the Polish/Czech/Slavic word for ‘goat.’ However, as far as a Google search can tell, there does not seem to be anyone named Kozelszewski (a spelling error, at this juncture, is inevitable).
The three of us had a laugh about his surname pertaining to a goat. At that moment, and in other moments of reflection, I have always been curious on how surnames and family names are derived. Here in Poland there are names of families that directly translate to rabbit, for example. There are, then, people in Poland named Jacob Rabbit. A famous Polish footballer bears the family name of cabbage. Bart Cabbage, he is thus known to be. How quaint it is to then know people with the surnames like Shoemaker. Peoples. Lekkerkerk (‘nice church’ in Dutch). Names are funny things.
We continued to drink our beers and recycle the same talking points throughout the evening. Leicester City. America. God. Women of the night. Intermittently through our conversation, Greyson and I would glance at each other and, with carefully executed eye-motions and gestures of the head, covertly agreed that it is was time to leave.
“Well, we must be going,” we said to our new friend, Mr Goat.
We stood, and Mr. Goat stood, too. As respectively as one being homeless could, he asked for just a few coins.
“Złotych?” I asked. “Money?”
He nodded and held out his hands.
Had not our meet and greet over drinks happened, I likely would have dropped a few coins into his dusty palms, enough for a small bite or, more certainly, a cheap beer from the shop. Had not the free beer been enough for him?
“Sorry, no” we said. I added, “The beer you drank was four zlotłch. Piwo był cztery złotych.” I pointed to his empty glass of beer and followed with a thumbs up. “It’s enough, okay?”
While most others probably would have pushed the issue, he agreed. Indeed, if he were to snatch a beer from anyone else around us, they would have added an additional bloody scar to his head!
Greyson and I gathered our belongings and turned towards the main square. Mr. Goat stayed behind. We shook hands and gave a final hurrah for Leicester City.
Moving towards Rynek, Greyson and I exchanged comments and head shakes of disbelief towards our recent encounter with our new Polish friend. As strange as the moment was, it held certain value for me at the time and until this very moment. Sparse utterances of English mixed with Polish allowed us to engage in conversation with a elderly man who, had we been able to speak fluent Polish, or he fluent English, we would have been thrilled to get to know. What is his story? What has he seen? Given Poland’s tumultuous history, both ancient and recent, great insights and perspectives could have been gained from speaking further with this man.
I took a look back at the outdoor seating of the pub to see if Mr. Goat was following us. To my slight dismay, he was not. To my further dismay, he was seen to be harassing another group of people, asking for money. While our conversation with Mr Goat was meaningful in ways both amusing and impacting for us, it seemed to not have effected him at all. What difference would it have been if we offered him an additional beer? Or given him money? Might as well have caused an uproar and physically forced him away from us after heisting one of beers initially. It seemed the last ten minutes meant nothing for him.
Hopefully, I will see Mr Goat again. I cannot completely recall his complexion in exact detail so that I may recognise him on the street, but, as the way things are here, you are bound to rub shoulders with the same beggars more than once. Perhaps such a moment will lead me to Mr Goat, the mysterious former electrician and Leicester City supporter.
A yearning to learn more Polish feeds my overarching desire to discover the mysteries of this city. It is yet to be seen if Mr Goat and the people like him – the beggars and wanderers – can unveil the mysteries of this city.