I met Liam on New Year’s Day. He said I should take his picture so I did. He asked me to sit down and talk with him and said that today was going to be the worst day of his life. The bench was clean and wooden. We sat on it together in front of the closed green pub. It was around 10:30. Not many people out yet.
Liam’s in his forties, clean-shaven and wide-eyed, even on a Sunday, New Year’s Day, the worst day of his life. He’s carrying a dark gray knapsack and a black plastic bag with a bottle in it. “My lady kicked me out,” he says. I ask him why and he tells me it’s because he’s been drinking. I’m not sure if he means last night, or this morning, or just in general. I sort of ask and he sort of answers, and then we both just sit there trying to figure it out.
I start to explain why I don’t drink, for whatever it’s worth. At some point I say the words “addictive personality.” He smiles and tells me that’s a very American thing to say. “Is it?” I ask. He says it is and I decide to believe him. I finish my thesis and add, “But that’s just me. You should do what works for you.” But Liam says it’s him, too.
He asks me what I think about London. I tell him I’m glad I’m here, but that I think there’s something cold and sad about the city, and it’s not the weather. He knows what I mean. Our theories about what that something is are different, but we’re still working on them. We’ll figure it out one day.
Liam’s plastic bag shakes a little in the wind as he takes another sip. I tell him I should probably get going. We shake hands as I start to stand up and he asks me to take his picture again. He says it makes him feel better. I take a couple wide shots, then zoom in and take a couple up close. I use his right eye, which is looking in my direction but at something far away, to set the focus, then I click the shutter.
Before I leave I tell him I know how much of a bummer life can be. I have his attention now so I tell him it doesn’t have to be the worst day of his life. I ask him to try to find something to make it better. It will probably be something small and great. And it probably won’t last long so he should try to find it in each moment. I think it registered some. And I think Liam grabbed a hold of it, too. He went west. I went south.
About the author:
Brian Leli is an American writer, photographer, and teacher. He’s self-published three books and done a lot of journalistic things for a bunch of different publications. He’s from Chicago, Illinois but lives out of rented rooms everywhere. He lives on the internet here.