Sleeping Rough

by Martin James Hunter

 

Roads are quietening, pathways too. Everything darkened after the sun’s descent. A beggar lounges beside an ATM where an uncomfortable woman punches in her code. She selects an amount. Confirms it. Then that infinite wait for money. As the sound of her shoes fades into the distance the beggar returns to his book.

The air is noticeably colder so I start to worry about my clothing. My scarf is exceptional but the zip on the Big Jacket has been broken for some time, permanently splaying it. Underneath I wear a t-shirt, the only thing covering the front of my torso. A brief moment of panic ensues.

Two beggars sit on a park bench conversing and swigging lager. I consider approaching. Enquiring as to whether it seems like I might last the night. But for some reason I pass without query, keeping my troubles to myself.

I now seem to exist in socio-economic limbo. A middle ground between two established parties, carrying qualities of both; while the general public seem to mostly regard me with unease and disdain, beggars still approach requesting change. It crosses my mind that perhaps I have yet to attain the right demeanour.

Further up the road there is a bag left outside a charity shop. I lift the thing and can already tell it contains no clothing. Far too heavy. Peering in I see it is filled with tableware.

In the outskirts of the city centre I bump into her once again, buzzing with wine and on her way out. She about turns and takes me back to her flat where I am fetched a blanket. She ties it to my sleeping bag, completing the homeless look. Then I am afforded a kiss. Lips like a wee flower. I’ll see you around, she smiles before I am again swallowed by the city.

 

First Sleep

Jerking awake from a nightmare of tumbling politicians and distorted infants I immediately see it. The ominous figure lurking in my peripheral vision. Nestled within a palette of amber and black. Crouched and within arm’s reach and watching me sleep.

My attempt in rolling to safety simply does not go through. A moment of bewilderment, followed by the dreadful conclusion that I am gripped by sleep paralysis. Horror then takes hold.

I jam my lids shut, rejecting the image. Begin wiggling my toes and working my way up. A method of escape I learnt through the internet. Like many of my friends I am no stranger to this phenomenon and nowadays can free myself fairly quickly. With a start I am loose and in one movement spring upright. The hallucination vanquished with consciousness which is followed by great relief.

Leaves gently disturbed by the breeze. Dogs barking tirelessly in the distance. A television playing from a nearby window. The soothing ambience of the city.

 

Amongst Vegetation

Tonight’s home is the small garden of an annexe. It is framed by two of the building’s sandstone walls and two knee-high ones. The knee-high walls will hopefully serve to keep animals out, foxes being of particular concern. I’d rather not have my face bit mid-slumber.

Numerous bushes prevent access to the garden except from at two points, the thick shrubbery obscuring me from passers by. When I first climbed in through the eastmost opening my face passed through a delicate net of web, taking it with me. The vast effort of an individual spider obliterated by a superior being in an instant. Throughout the night various insects fell upon me but in regards to the bigger picture brought no distress.

Earlier on nearby footsteps initially generated discomfort but in time I grew used to them. Their coming and going as fleeting as a gust of wind or brief shower. To my right lies the corner where glum toadstools pepper a fallen log, leaning over as though judging me from under their caps. This is also where I chose to abandon my litter and urinate.

Sleep paralysis is one of several manifestations of ecstasy abuse. After a significant period of abstinence from the substance I made a return to outrageous form last weekend. Due to the last two days of drinking only now have I felt the ramifications. And of all places here.

This was not the only problem faced tonight. Earlier I made the mistake of falling asleep with too many layers on, a bid to outsmart the crisp temperature. I awoke later and was forced to remove a t-shirt saturated with cold sweat. Carefully applying my remaining dry layers I was able to moderate my temperature until a little more certain I had it correct.

My dream was a strange one. As the Prime Minister left his hotel I managed to land a kick upon his arse that sent him sprawling downstairs onto the pavement. From here I liberally showered the man in more kicks as he cowered in the foetal position like a bullied school boy. Just as I was beginning to really enjoy myself an infant’s face shot across my vision as though a television channel had been changed suddenly and in error. Its features were tinged blue and in two sudden jerks violently warped out of shape retching and squealing. Then I awoke to the crouched figure.

I am taken from my memories by a car making its way up the road and halting beside the annexe. A diesel engine – either the police or a taxi. The smell of exhaust fumes. My body goes still, my ears prick like those of a cat. There is a pop as the door opens. High heels on pavement. Excitable chatter. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Then the vehicle and its clients are gone. I lie there exhausted, my ordeal hopefully over. As usual when faced with a possible bout of sleep paralysis, I cover my eyes to prevent further hallucinations.

Footsteps grow and fade as someone else goes by oblivious to my presence. With their passing the air becomes still, traffic seeming to have ceased. Soft music now, the window across the road. Despite the night’s excitement I feel myself start to drift.

 

Next I try my hand at begging.

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