He sits in the shop doorway trying to disappear into the background under the glare of the soft orange street light. His hands absent-mindedly wind the thin fabric of the dirty tattered blanket he’d stumbled across yesterday around his long, chapped-from-cold fingers. A thin layer against the night was better than nothing, and hopefully he’d still be able to feel his fingers by morning unlike the rest of the past week. Tucking the edges around himself – under torn canvas trainers, around frayed jean bottoms, under his back as he lays as foetus-like as the doorway allows – he rests his head back into the hood, thankful that at least this part of his parka jacket remains intact.
He likes to watch the stars when there is no light pollution from above; on a clear, balmy summer evening it temporarily takes away the reality of his surroundings and he can lose himself in his own tales of far off places and distant worlds. But now is mid-December and the small amount of heat that for some reason radiates from this shop might just be the few degrees between life and death by hypothermia.
He thinks back to the warm but flavourless coffee someone had kindly given him in the morning. Although he can’t bring himself to beg, he must have looked forlorn enough for the passerby to realise he was homeless and he is temporarily heated by the flush of his own shame. When he first became homeless he had been so adamant to himself that he would do all he could to not look homeless. Washing in public toilets, carefully cleaning his hands and combing his fingers through his hair so he looked unkempt but not like an undesirable. And of course, once the beard fully grew in it helped keep him warm in the cold of the night. Long hair had suited him once and it could again, even when peppered with premature grey. Somehow he managed to keep his two sets of clothes relatively clean for the longest time but now, after eight months on the street, he blends in with all the other homeless around him. He can no longer pretend he is any different.
He is a failure.
He is nothing.
He has nothing.
There is a glimmer of pride within him still that he hasn’t resorted to drinking – although the thought of forgetting the world to the bottom of a bottle and sinking into a restless sleep has felt more appealing than he’d like, and he didn’t even drink much when he lived his ‘previous’ life. He hasn’t stolen either, living on scraps from bins, the occasional soup kitchen and the generous meals provided by shelters when they can. If he’s lucky he gets a bed once a week, but only if he is early enough. It is soul-destroying to think you are going to have temporary shelter and then to round the corner and see twenty sets of desperate eyes staring back into your own, ahead of you in the queue. Not your turn for warmth. Not tonight. That thin, lumpy mattress and well-used duvet you’ve fantasised about all day is the privilege of another of the city’s nobodies this evening.
His stomach growls but somehow the hollowness of hunger doesn’t bother him as it once did. Sure, it’s so much harder to ignore in the winter because it is so cold, but, he’s always had an active imagination, so when it gets really bad he conjures up elaborate meals for himself with gluttonous calorific content and glorious limitless seconds.
He fights the urge to rehash the how, the when, and the why yet again. How did this happen? When did he lose everything? Why hadn’t he turned himself around yet? Because it made no difference. This was his life, currently. Another uncounted statistic. The hope that tomorrow would bring something, any glimmer of change had long gone; he just lurched between days and shivered through nights, wondering when it would all end. If he would have the strength to end it himself.
Because truly, what other way out was there?
Some homeless ‘got lucky’ and got help. He didn’t really know how. He’s never seen it happen to someone he knows and so he wouldn’t even know where to start looking for it. Are there actually places that would help? He has no idea.
No idea about anything.
Except that the temperature is dropping. That he is alone in the world. That he is huddled in a shop doorway under the orange glow of the street light, fighting to stay alive.
He must stop asking himself why he bothers to even try.