Here we are again my friends (I think we know each other well enough by now to call you that!) Are you ready for another little story? Well I hope so ’cause that is what you’re going to be getting!
So get yourself comfy, open those choccy biccies, and off we go!
Spare Some Change?
“Spare some change please, can you spare some change?”
Holding out my small paper cup I wondered how many times I must have uttered those words. ‘If I had a penny for every time…’ I thought to myself with a small internal laugh.
If I had a penny for every time I’d said those words then I would have enough for a hot meal tonight, and that was rather the aim of the whole thing.
A hot meal. Was there ever a more wonderful thing in creation? With a wistful sigh I allowed myself a moment of daydreaming.
A bag of chips. OK not the healthiest of goals when it comes to food but there is something so completely comforting about them that I cannot resist.
I dream often about that large paper wrapping encasing the hot greasy strips of fried potato, savouring the warmth of the bag that seems to heat me to the very tips of my toes, before I slowly tear a small hole through the paper and extract one long golden reward.
The heat of the first chip invariably burns my mouth but I don’t care because it tastes so good. The sharp tang of vinegar mixed with salt coating the perfectly cook chip as I am torn between the desire to wolf them down quickly to assuage the hunger pangs of my stomach and the pleasure of savouring each delicious mouthful for as long as I can, who knows when I will manage to get another bag? I usually settle somewhere around eating the first half of the bag as quickly as possible, often ignoring the heat of the chips which continues to burn at my mouth, slowing down as I get near the end of them, trying to make them last as long a little while longer until I am left with nothing but the empty grease stained paper and, for a few hours, the warming comfort of a full belly.
“Spare some change please,” I said again as a woman in a smart business suit passes me by. She looks as though she could spare more than some change and still not miss it but none of it comes my way. Instead she adopts that expression that I have come to know so well. I have seen it often on a variety of faces as they hurry by, their footsteps increasing momentarily until I am no longer within their sight.
You soon learn to recognise those people who will stop and drop a few coins in your cup and those who will scurry on by, it’s in their eyes in that split second when they first notice you.
The ones who never stop always seem to suffer that moment of unease as they realise they are looking at someone who is sat, usually outside a busy shop, begging. It’s too late to cross the road so they know they will have to walk past and suddenly, instantly, their attention is urgently required elsewhere. They fish around in their bag for an item they desperately need, or their gaze is locked on some fascinating point off into the distance. Anything rather than focus on the poor wretch of a person huddled on the cold pavement, instead they hurry past as fast as they can, instantly forgetting the likes of me and returning to the thoughts they were having before we dared pollute them with our poverty.
The others actually take a moment to really look at you and in some ways that can hurt more than being so blatantly ignored because, without fail, there is that terrible pity in their eyes. Their pity is all encompassing, often increasing your feelings of self-disgust simply by reflecting that disgust back in their eyes. But you take it; you take their pity because you have no other choice. Along with their pity comes what you really need. Their cash.
The temperature had dropped since I first took my place on the cold ground and I shivered, wrapping my arms tightly around my thin, inadequate jacket and prayed that the dark clouds overhead would not herald rain.
The cold is bad when you’re sleeping rough, but the rain, the rain is almost unbearable. Suddenly every doorway will become cramped with bodies trying to seek shelter but there is never enough room and if you’re not fast enough or strong enough you will be left to huddle beneath a tree, the branches keeping off at least the worst of the rain but still leaving you soaked through once it has subsided. I have tried to sleep beneath my fair share of trees. Being only five foot two and female does not give you much sway when it comes to fighting for shelter, very occasionally someone will take pity on me and allow me to squeeze up next to them in a doorway. More often than not wanting a favour in return that will instantly send me back out into the rain. I’m not ready to prostitute myself for the sake of a nights sleep in a doorway, at least not yet.
“Spare some change please?”
I winced as I rolled my shoulders, the combination of the cold and sitting still for hours taking its toll as every part of my body seemed to ache and yet I barely had enough in my cup for a hot drink, let alone a meal. It seemed like it would be another long hungry night ahead.
“Spare some change?”
What was the point? The streets were growing darker and quieter as people headed home, I might as well give up and see if I could find somewhere to spend the night and, if I was lucky, someone’s half eaten and then discarded takeaway.
“Here you go.”
The man’s voice was soft and kind but it still made me jump as I hadn’t heard him approach and crouch down beside me, lost as I was in my thoughts.
I looked in surprise at the rolled up ten pound note that he had stuffed into my cup and was gripped for a moment with fear over what he might want for that sort of money. He looked kind and gentle, his eyes were a soft brown with messy tousled black hair hanging down to frame and almost handsome face, maybe it wouldn’t really be so bad if I let him… but he was already getting to his feet and moving away from me.
“God Jonathan you are such a mug,” a tall skinny dark haired woman said as she grabbed onto his arm and began to pull him away. “You know she’ll just go and spend that on alcohol and drugs…”
There was a look in the woman’s eyes that was different from those who ignored or those who pitied, a look that was sometimes to be feared. She looked at me with complete loathing, as if my very presence was offensive to her, and I expect that it was. She had me pegged as either an alcoholic or drug addict, possibly both, and as such not deserving of anyone’s help. People like her could see no other reason why anyone should end up homeless, if you were on the streets it was because you deserved it or wanted it and nothing else. You didn’t deserve her sympathy or understanding and you certainly wouldn’t get it.
The man, Jonathan, was different though and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing with her. True she was pretty, in that overly made up and styled way, but her eyes were cold and empty of any kind of compassion.
Jonathan was still looking at me as he walked away and he smiled. It wasn’t a pitying smile or a smile because he had just done something charitable and it made him feel good about himself. It was a real, genuine smile and was the first one I had seen in longer than I could remember.
I watched them walk away until they turned a corner and were out of sight before I returned my attention to my cup.
Ten whole pounds. I could eat for days on that.
With a genuine smile of my own I got slowly, stiffly to my feet.
I would have gravy on my chips tonight.