It’s 7.20am, a biting cold August morning, not quite cold enough for frost to trail from our mouths, but a need for a coat, a barrier from mornings mist, gloves to calm stiff fingers and a scarf to snuggle into. Leaving the trains entrance, after climbing 57 stairs, I’m puffing just a bit, I fib as the reality is, I’m puffing a lot, legs burning, thanking whoever I need to that I make it to the top. Those strangers, my train companions, watching on as they ride up the escalator that is (like sensible people) next to these 57 stairs, I imagine either thinking, she’s mad or I should try that.
Squeezing through the crowd
Weaving through the crowd to find open space, my footsteps sound uneven, either the cobbles below or me, I can’t decide. I march through Globe Lane, where reaching the end of the lane on the left hand corner is a government building, can’t read the signage, no time to stop, the piped concertos from invisible speakers, weaving music through the crowds and spilling us out onto Forrest Place. I regret leaving the music behind as I pound the paving, not wanting to be late for work, I’m guessing that music stops the homeless from sleeping in their doorways. I halt at the traffic lights. Watching, waiting, I count green cars that fly past, a childhood habit I hold onto, just like I count lampposts and when bored with that, I count the shadows on the road.
A strange man
My focus turns to a strange man on the opposite side of the street, somethings not right, all external sounds leave me, I watch on silently as his body sway’s from side to side. I can’t feel any wind, I look over at the flags and trees, they’re not swaying and I wonder. He’s dressed like a construction worker, fluoro shirt, and steel capped boots, looking crumpled, forlorn and empty. The sound of the crossing bleeps startles me, the green man flashes furiously urging you to hurry. I’m halfway across before crumpled man opens his eyes and takes his first tentative steps onto the crossing. The closer I get I can see his empty eyes staring straight ahead, a slim white paper band wraps his wrist, the type you receive from a hospital as a patient (in case you get lost I used to think). He has three-day beard growth and is dirty, not that I can smell anything.
I reach the other side
I reach the other side and turn to watch as if in slow motion he gently lifts his legs one by one onto the pavement, I wonder that he’s counting to, safe at last. He ambles towards an empty doorway just a few doors down, it is then that I notice his bottle green rucksack . He pulls the rucksack from his back, gently lowering it into the doorway as if it’s full of fine crystal. I watch on as this broken man cautiously bends himself to the ground laying half on half off his rucksack, tucking his knees into his chest, his hands resting between his legs, a protective position, he closes his eyes to sleep.
The street noise resumes in my ears, I’ve been holding my breath. I re-cross the intersection to a local cafe, buy broken man some breakfast, a large coffee, and a ham and cheese toasty. Something to warm his stomach to fill a void, I try not to take my eyes off him while I wait for his food. I notice the work crowds rushing past him as if he’s not there, I’m wishing the police don’t move him on before I’m back. Once again at the lights, the green frantic flashing man allows us to cross. I approach crumpled man with the empty eyes, I kneel down softly saying, ‘excuse me sir’. He starts a little, opens his eyes, not looking at me but at the food I hand him. Turning, I take the ten steps back to the crossing I watch as he unwraps the toasty, taking large bites, pulling the wrapping back in off the pavement so as not to litter.
I wish that he remembers a stranger’s kindness and that gives him comfort and hope