Encounters While Begging
by Martin James Hunter
A dream of the wrong girl. Past experiences that refuse to be forgotten. Worsened and replayed in a place only visible to one. My eyelids pry open, disclosing reality to great relief. Thick vegetation, the sound of passing engines.
Yesterday’s lesson remains with me. I now sleep in a covert place. Through bars of a fence and into a passage in the thicket. Unlike my previous home it is not possible to stand here. Its obscure location however brings an aura of security.
Between leaves I can make out an older woman having trouble emptying a bin. Rigid limbs hindering her progress. A cat watching with amusement. I would help if it did not involve emerging like a pervert.
I decide to have a look around my bush until she leaves. There are obscure things here. A bottle of soy sauce. A kid’s toy drum. A traffic cone. The latter of which I slept on. Eventually I pack my things and appear from the thicket to a ghastly overcast.
Every step is unpleasant. As though with them cold liquid sloshes up the walls of my stomach. My immune system must be pathetic under this new diet; today’s objective is to acquire some vitamin C.
The Busiest Street
Unrelenting torrents of consumers race for the latest releases. Workers desperately making the most of their breaks. Children almost trampled to death over a new phone. The main artery of the city.
It is more difficult to perch here than in the outskirts of town. The place carries an overwhelming sense of exposure. Every minute a hundred eyes pass making assessments. Paralysed under the influence of so many at once.
I sit against an electricity box and draw up my blanket. Unsympathetic feet almost kick away my cup. Others close to stepping over my legs as one would a puddle. As I edge backwards a great dane comes over for a sniff.
My pockets are empty leaving nothing to weigh my cup down. As though aware of this the wind launches it across the pavement and I am sent clambering on all fours. After crawling back I prevent the same mistake from happening twice by pouring in a little water. The first coin that lands does so with a plop.
There is a slow leak from the bottom of my cup. A trail of water meandering along the pavement. When most of it is gone I pour in a little more. A woman eyes the process with curiosity.
My expression of hopelessness seems to be working. I can see passers-by hesitating in my peripheral vision. An elderly gentleman lobs a pound at the cup as he goes by. It misses and bounces off the pavement and I am scrambling again.
While I am inspecting my prize a man with prominent cheekbones kneels down beside me. Spent teeth like the remains of a bothy. Not any older than twenty-five. He asks if I take heroin and I say no. Apparently my eyes say otherwise.
He tells me about the days of his addiction. Three years swallowed in one go. As his tale closes he drops a pound into my cup. I must remind him of his former self.
Our conversation is wrapping up and I have not been sitting comfortably. Cramp is taking hold of my left calf. For some reason I choose to endure in silence than admit my plight. Eventually the man rejoins the flow of people and I am left writhing in torment.
Nothing is happening so I am left to re-examine my surroundings. Vast shop fronts endorsing products as though premiering blockbusters. Commodities travelling in clusters of polystyrene. A tray of food samples offered to everyone but me.
Another twenty pence takes me by surprise. I can now see the parallels between this sport and fishing. Sitting lost in my own world. Waiting patiently for a catch. Then just when I am beginning to lose hope – the water stirs.
He is suddenly kneeling in front of me. A beggar I passed by an ATM earlier. Sporting a baseball cap and carrying an array of food under his arm. His face is enormous. His eyes piercing. I am locked to them not in terror but anticipation.
You are hungry?
Take two (he give me some Chelsea buns) You take heroin?
Thanks. No sir.
I take heroin. Is alright if you do.
Good. Neither do I. What is this money for? (he taps my cup)
You are a good boy. Here. Give me one pound.
After much fumbling in his pocket he exchanges a two pound coin for my pound. A gentleman condemned to the streets. When he asks my name I give my real one. As he leaves I experience a sudden feeling of immunity as though having heard Kurt Russell say You’re with me kid.
He is awfully close. More cheekbones. Great ridges sculpted upon his face by virulent hands. Those eyes look unhealthy too. Sometimes you can just feel the bad off someone.
Here mate do you know (incomprehensible name)?
Sorry I don’t.
You take legal highs?
No I don’t.
Nah? It’s just I know somewhere you could go take them if you did.
No thank you.
Later a bag of shopping descends from above. Lowered onto my lap by an exotic woman. Delicate and ebony and radiating compassion. As I thank her she beams and calls me sweety. For a second I no longer feel ill.
I wait for her to leave before peering inside. Preserving what I can of my tattered dignity. The bag contains food including fruit and tropical juice. Vitamin C manifesting right on time. As I tuck in that feeling in my chest returns.