It’s rush hour, hundreds of commuters dashing this way and that, umbrellas aloft, dodging the puddles, hailing taxis. They all know I’m here although none of them acknowledge my existence. Well none is a bit strong, 99% don’t notice me and to the other 1% I’m a cause, a charity case, a focus for their compassion, a reason to start a collection. It doesn’t do me much good. I don’t really benefit from their good works. Am I bitter? No, there’s no point.
So why am I here now? Well it’s safe for a start. Ridiculous? Yes I can see that it seems a stupid thing to say, but to me my routine provides a safety net. I like to know where I am on any given day. Plenty of people milling around means safety. I know what to expect, and what do I expect? Nothing. So anything I do get is a bonus. ‘Expect nothing and nothing is what you’ll get,’ so sayeth my father. Pillar of society, churchwarden at St Pauls, local councillor, volunteer, hypocrite. Yes he’s all of those things. I used to think my mother was a saint to put up with him but in hindsight, a wonderful thing, she’s no saint. She’s even more of a hypocrite than Walter. And where is Walter, my father, now? Does he ever wonder where I am? Have the family paid for an advert on a milk carton? Have they walked miles sticking posters to lamp posts? Have they paid for adverts in the press? Have they even noticed I’m not around?
It’s raining again. I can look forward to another night with no sleep because it’s too wet to ignore the water seeping into my clothes, boots, hair.
Last week I found an overcoat hanging on a railing. I didn’t take it straight away. I wanted to see if anyone came back for it. I’m many things but thief is not one of them. Two hours I waited and no-one came back. It’s big and thick and seems waterproof. It’s got a hood and the sleeves are really long, it’s like my own personal tent, but tonight the rain is too much even for this.
I managed to get two meals today. I have a favourite skip behind the kebab shop. I’m sure they leave stuff for me. Wishful thinking maybe, but earlier I had a whole flatbread with döner meat. It was a banquet by my usual standards and this morning I managed to find three doughnuts in a brown bag in a bin, how wasteful you must be thinking? But I say ‘bring it on let the waste flow’. I have a few favoured haunts, a couple of coffee stands that offer me hot drinks if I’m around, a tea shop whose owner leaves me a box of goodies on the back windowsill. Leftover cakes, sandwiches past their sell by dates, fruit that may be a bit soft. I’m not proud. I have to grab the opportunity when I can.
It’s not easy but I try and keep my appearance as normal as possible. The coat helps me there of course but the Salvation Army hostel has changes of clean clothes if I’m lucky enough to get a bed for the night. A shower, a bed, clean clothes and a hot meal is an occasional heaven. It won’t happen tonight, heavy rain means the queue will be round the block, there will be no chance of getting in now so I won’t even bother trying. A cold splash and dash in a public toilet isn’t the same, but better than feeling really dirty all the time. Does looking ‘normal’ help me then? Well I guess not unless everyone feels the same. Does everyone feel invisible in this city whether they’re homeless or not? That’s pretty sad really, I’ve never thought of it like that before. I only moved to the city after I disappeared, I lived in a small town where you knew everyone and they knew you but here I just blend into street life.
When I first arrived I thought it’d be easy to get a place to stay, get a job, start a new life, but it wasn’t easy at all. Rooms are expensive and without a job no-one wants to know. I could have gone home after my money ran out I suppose but I’d left after a huge bust-up and wasn’t about to apologise to Walter. Things were said that couldn’t be unsaid. I was on my own.
I head back to the doorway to try and shelter from the rain. It’s Wednesday and the public library was closed for the afternoon or I would have slipped in there and sat quietly upstairs in the reference section. If I don’t smell too bad and just sit and read then they pretty well leave me alone. I’ve read some classic books in the last few weeks, course I can’t stay in there all day but I can get away with about four hours before I notice the glances, nudges and whispers although no-one says anything. It’s a warm place to spend a few hours and reading passes the time. If it was dry I’d probably slip into the cemetery, before they lock up for the night, and kip on the bench, nobody bothers me there. I used to sleep on a bench in the park but I avoid it now to be honest, it’s not safe. I was mugged there, unbelievable I bet you’re thinking, for a tatty grey jacket and a woolly hat. I’d say it was pathetic but I know what it’s like to be cold, wet and desperate. I’ve never given in though. I still have standards.
The rain is stronger now. I slide behind a phone box, it shields me from the worst of it. The coat helps but my feet are soaked. That’s my next mission, I need some decent boots.
©Nita Lewsey 2020