Let us suppose his name was Toni. I cannot reveal his real name for confidentiality reasons. You do understand, don’t you?
But I remember him perfectly well, even though 46 years have elapsed since then.
In fact, it was 1971 and we were approaching Christmas. We were only 21 at the time and he was my colleague in a London hostel, whose name I dare not to mention, where we were both having fun washing up dishes for an army of young and hungry of “would- be civil servants.
I was as happy as can be. Not a care in the world. Having left behind the Spanish cruel and boring dictatorship behind, everything was great: Rock music, pretty girls, green parks everywhere, the BBC, a swinging city before my very eyes…You name it, I had it!
Except money, of course. Food at the hostel was awful and we used to meet and queue quite regularly at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken shop, just round the corner from Gloucester Road.
But Toni was always sad and did not speak a lot nor related to the rest of the staff.
I think I must have been his only friend. i Simply could not understand why he wasn’t enjoying London as much as I was.
One day, the local cops rang the hostel and told us that Toni was in prison. He had been arrested and he was being charged with some sort of petty theft.
I will not repeat my boss’ words. They lacked all interest and humanity.
Without wasting a single second, I took a black cab to Brixton prison. I vividly remember the smile behind the driver’s Raybans asking me whether I knew what was I getting myself into by visiting such a peculiar neighbourhood. I must admit that the place was not exactly a rose garden, but I didn’t care. First things first. I had decided to see Toni and that was that. I spoke to the authorities. I still do not know how I convinced them, but I did.
They must have thought I was out of my mind!!
I assured them that I would take care of him and I told them that Toni was suffering from some kind of mental disorder and that everything had been a mistake.
I had the impression deep in my heart that I was telling the truth, although I didn’t know anything about psychiatry in those days.
And it was true. I discovered almost immediately that Toni suffered a schizophrenic episode simply because he had not been taking his medication for some time.
Now I know a lot more about psychiatry. Then, I didn’t even know what the word meant.
His father cried bitterly when I told him what had happened to him. He sent me some money and I bought him a ticket so he could go back home safely.
I gathered Toni’s father was shaking at the other end of the phone and he told me over and over again that he could never pay me back for what I had done for Toni.
I spent the evening before his departure with him over a plate of chicken and chips in a hotel that had been provided by the Spanish Consulate.
He smiled. He felt reassured and happy.
Next morning, the Consulate staff and I took him to Heathrow airport.
I know I am not a hero, but I am proud of what I did and, by golly, I would do it all over again.
But isn’t life funny sometimes? Here I am, many years later trying to set up the foundations of an NGO devoted to delivering door to door happiness to those who need it, just like Toni did then.