I’m staring into this pit. Other side of it is this skinny old feller. Looking at me bad-like.
What’s he on about? Has he ever felt the cold like I have? Nah, never. So shouldn’t judge. I feel like saying this to all the scumbags who look at you, their eyes saying you’re no better than a rat. And who the fuck are they to think a thing like that. Eh? I wanna go up to em, ask em what the fuck they mean by it! No words, but eyes. Eyes doing the scorning. As I sit here in the mud, gloomy, and they breeze past me.
Tonight is fecking freezing. Don’t ask me where I am. There’s no answer. I’m not one of those who has a route to travel. Just go where I want; take new turns. Where they’ll lead I’m never quite sure.
Yesterday I was sitting down quiet-like and these two gits comes up to me and they starts harassing me, going, ‘You oughta get a life man, what you doin?’ And I says back to em, ‘What you wanna know for; why you wanna know what I’m doin? Eh? Then the thin one, not the pulpy one, he lands me a punch, says, ‘You’re a lippy fucker, take that.’ Hits me right on the mouth. My lip snags on a tooth. Blood spurts.
And now there’s this new git looking at me bad. Who in hell’s name does he think he is? Cross-eyed fucker. Staring at me! Eyes maddest I’ve seen so far. Then I suddenly hear him speaking. Well, let him say what the fuck he likes. I’m freezing to death is all I know. If he comes out with just one more word I’m gonna tell him to piss right off.
‘Wanna come for a cup of tea, mate?’
Did I hear right? ‘Ain't got no money,’ I tell the feller quick.
‘Tea’s on me,’ says he.
So what’s he? Some kind of a pervert?
‘Name’s Trev,’ goes the guy. ‘You?’
What’s he wanna know my name for? A tea won’t buy him much with me. Anyway, I’m too cold to frigging move. Every time I shift my leg the wind gets me. So I try to keep as still as possible. Even talking seems to make it colder.
‘Listen mate, you don’t want to be here on a night like this. It’ll freeze your bollocks off. I know a better place.’
Does he, does he really? And he’s not going to knife me in the ribs or ought-like? Not gonna do me over? I watch him closely, other side of the pit. Wonder what his game is. Then I notice something. Feller’s a homeless, same as me. So he knows what he’s talking about then. The bite of the wind; the ice in the air. And then I think as how I’ve seen the guy around.
‘Name’s Trev,’ he’s saying. ‘You need somewhere with a hot-air vent. I know two or three such places as aren’t yet taken.’
‘Ok,’ I tells him, and I start to pull myself up. ‘I’m new to this game,’ I tell him. ‘Name’s Quý.’
He gives a toothless laugh, looking devilish in the lamplight. But the sight of the gaps in his gums is a bit of comfort to me. I see he’s definitely a man of the street and probably knows what’s he’s talking about. I’ll give him the benefit, though I’m still uneasy.
Fella takes me to this caff by the river. Grotty sort of dump, but warm. Place is full of similar types. Gets me the tea as offered. I calm down.
You know what, guy’s not so bad; knows everybody in the caff. Then he and this bloke Dan they takes me down to this doorway, back of the Festival Hall. There’s hot air like you wouldn’t believe. Comes blazing out like sunbeams. I roll meself into me sleeping-bag; guys move off. Will see me tomorrow is what they say.
On me own now in my instant tropical island but it’s not the same alone as it used to be.
Jay Merill is a writer in London UK and is currently writing flash stories about fictional homeless characters on the London streets. Her stories have appeared in Literary Orphans, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Wigleaf, among others, and she has two collections published by Salt. Her short story, “As Birds Fly” won the Salt Short Story Prize. She is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. @JayMerill