Content! I’m posting content! Phew, glad I got that out of the way. This is a short story that I entered into a competition, and I didn’t place. So, you lovely people get to have a read. The topic was about having hardships in life, but looking on the bright side. It’s about a homeless man living on the streets of Sydney.
The story below is a little longer than I would post on here , but I love this story. It’s a little over 2,500 words, if you get to the end, I hope you enjoy it.
Thousands of people travel through Central Station every day. Busy commuters and travellers bustling and rushing through the gates. Walking shoulder to shoulder in the peak hour rush, heads down tapping on phone screens, earphones in, sunglasses on. They don’t notice the little old man sitting in the tunnel. They don’t see his wasted body and his dirt stained skin. They trade looking at his sunken drawn face and sad eyes for the latest trailer on YouTube. Those people never notice him or his kind. No one notices the grey of society. Not bad enough to be criminals but not good enough to stand with them. The halfway humans – the homeless.
It was me favourite sleepin’ spot. Undercover, clean and safe. In the tunnel linkin’ the country trains to the tram line. I like to watch the folk come and go. At least the guards let me spend the night. Most other places shoo me away like a stray dog, even if I have to sit in the rain while they watched to make sure I didn’t piss in their doorway.
I got to get there early in winter ‘cause it gets dark early and the others would be lookin’ for somewhere to sleep. I’m very cagey about where I rest me head. But most folk don’t think so, most think that ‘cause I’m homeless I have no dignity. I get it. It’s easier for ‘em. It’s easier to ignore the man in the gutter if you don’t think about him too much. Hell, I used to think like that, ignored the folk that needed help like they were so different from me. They weren’t, I see it now on the other side, everyone’s the same at the end.
“Just like you!” I shout at the man in the tailored suit.
The fella looks me up and down shakin’ his head. Well, me suit was never tailored but it was a good one from Gowings, up in town. Most people reckon I’m like the rest of ‘em, a no good druggie or piss head. Not me. I never touched the stuff in me first life, I ain’t startin’ now. Besides, if you see the trouble the ratbags over in the park get into then you wouldn’t touch it either. I see them over into Belmore park, new ones every day gettin’ into the tents to shag, shoot up or smoke.
When I first got here I used to sleep over under one of ‘em big trees. Now they’d slit me throat for tryin’, I’m not even good enough for the junkies. It makes me sad too. Some of ‘em they need help, but I figure they’re stuck. Not like me. I wanna be here, I gotta be here. But some of ‘em have little ones that have no business being near that shit.
It’s easy to lose track of time here on the streets, I know it’s cold and the nights are long. Sometimes I read the paper before I stuff ‘em into my clothes to keep warm. Time doesn’t matter when no one cares. I had someone that cared once. Rose. Me lady Rose. Even me bloody heart hurts sayin’ her name. She was me everything. She kept me healthy, kept me alive. It’s because she was stolen from me that I stopped livin’ and started exisitin’. She didn’t even know she was sick until she had her stroke. The Doc said it was a problem with her ticker and there was nothin’ they could do. She was only sixty years old for Christ’s sake. Me love lasted two more weeks before a heart attack took her. She knew it was comin’, she asked me to hold her hand and if I’d known that she was gonna leave then, I wouldn’t have fuckin’ done it.
That’s when I let everything go. I had myself a little worker’s cottage in Tempe, it wasn’t much, but me Rose made it a home. When I went back there without her, I couldn’t walk in the door. The bloody place was haunted, she was everywhere. She was in the wallpaper, she was in the carpets, she was even in the fuckin’ fridge. So I let that go too. It took a long time to burn to the ground, and in those days no one had a mobile phone to call the fire brigade. The neighbours were lucky to have a phone at all. The bloody house was just another reminder of the life we had. The laughter, the fun but so much God damn pain too. The loss tied up with me memories of her. I watched until the last little bit of ash floated away. It felt right. Rose was gone, the house was gone and I was gone just like those memories made of ash flying off in the wind.
I got money, but what does money mean when you got no one to spend it on? Me and Rose were gonna use that money for our retirement. We was goin’ travellin’ together. She wanted to walk up the side of a volcano and go swimmin’ with the fish on a reef. She was adventurous. She had to be to put up with me. When I was a young fella, me mum took me to see a Doctor about me head. She said I wasn’t right. The quacks said it was a psychotic disorder, probably from getting hit around the head as a kid. Me stepfather was a real mean drunk, a rat bastard that would get shitfaced and lay into me. The Doc’s put me on a heap of pills and sometimes I would take ‘em and I would feel better and reckon I didn’t need ‘em no more. Sometimes I would just forget and get in a bad way, until I met Rose.
She was training to be a nurse when I first laid me eyes on her. I was fixing the floor joists in the hall at her university, she just walked into the wrong room. When she took a gander at me, I stopped thinkin’ and I bashed me thumb with a hammer. She ran over and took a look. Her hands so gentle on me. That was the second I thought that I was gonna marry this girl. And I did three months later in the registry office.
She took care of me. Made sure I went to see me Doctor and made sure I took me meds. We never had any kids, Rose said she couldn’t and that was fine by me. No kid wants what is in me head anyway. Sometimes in the summer I wander back up to Tempe and sit in the spot where our house was. It’s all high unit blocks now but I still feel her there. I don’t even know where she was buried, I took off that night. So that is her cemetery, that is where I pay me respects.
This is me second life. I find me hidin’ spot, hopin’ me stuff is still there. I used to carry it around until I kept getting jumped for it. An old man is easy to steal from. So, if I hide it and they take it, then at least me face ain’t beat to shit.
Me stomach growls as I hauled the bundle out from the spot under some stairs. I ate two days ago which was bloody good. A woman with nice clothes bought a drink and a sandwich for a junkie holdin’ a sign beggin’ for money. That’s how ya tell us apart, money’s for drugs but food is to live. The junkie threw the sandwich on the floor without a thank you and asked for money. The poor girl didn’t have any and it was a good thing ‘cause he would have done runner with her purse. But I had me eye on that sanga. It was good, not too many rocks in the bread and only a bit of gutter water, that was a good day.
I shuffle over to the escalator and I keep away from the people. I smell, I think. Maybe the old nose doesn’t work anymore or maybe I’m just used to the smell. But I wait until a girl gets off at the top before I get on. The cold steps are hard on me feet. Shoes was something you lived without on the streets. Just somethin’ else for ‘em to take off ya.
Keeping me head down as I get off the escalator, people don’t like me looking at ‘em. I know what I look like. I’m no prince, never was, but now me hair’s all hard and me beard is a ball of grey wool. I’m dirty and can’t remember the last time I had a bath. Me teeth are gone and the clothes I have on are too big. Me pants are tied with a bit of rope and all tattered near me feet. The bones in me hips stick out so much it hurts to lie on me stomach. I walk close to the wall not going near anyone. Most folk don’t know I’m there until I go past them, some step away, some say shit things, but I ain’t hurtin’ no one. I’m not a criminal. I just want to be by myself.
Me sleeping spot is empty. I let out me breathe in relief and shuffle over as quickly as me numb feet will go. I roll out me bag. It ain’t much, but if I put the holes against the cold floor then the draft don’t come through ‘em and it will keep me warn. Then I wait. Just like every night.
The tram will get here in three minutes. Then the tunnel will be full of people who don’t notice me enough to wonder about the old homeless fella. I was one of ‘em. Jostling for the best spot on the train, me esky and tools wedged between me knees. We never had money worries. Rose was a nurse and I did the odd carpentry jobs here and there. Enough to make ends meet.
“G’day Bill.” Neddy had made it here too tonight. That was good, the poor bugger was scared of his own reflection. He was a solider in his first life, he wasn’t even fifty. He would run for cover when he heard a car door slam. His nerves were shot. Some people came and tried to help him but he was sure they were gonna send him back to war.
“Nah,” I said to him, “they is gonna help you.”
He didn’t listen anyways. The little bugger could speak four languages and here he was with me, sleepin’ in a train station corridor.
The ding of the tram bell and then the sound of one hundred clickin’ feet started. Men and women on their way home to people who loved ‘em. A tall fella looked angry he was yelling into his phone.
“Angela. I don’t want to see your friends. I just want to have a beer and watch the footy.”
He shot me a sideways glance but not really carin’ one way or another.
Then came Stevo, his head down but lookin’ back over his shoulder. This poor fella was a nutso, total looney tunes. Thinks he was abducted by aliens and wears a hat made out of empty chip packets. It makes him easy to find when I’m wanderin’ around. He’s a good fella though. He’ll yell out if some bastard tries to hurt us. He likes to sleep durin’ the day, he reckons those aliens only come at night. He talks to himself in another language sometimes, Neddy’s got no idea what it is, so maybe it is alien speak.
It’s dark when shoutin’ wakes me up. I cover me head. Loud voices were bad on the streets. Stevo’s watchin’ em’, his back pressed up into a corner and he’s pissed himself. A couple is having a blue out near the tram stop. The fella was yelling at his missus and she was holding her face, cryin’ and cowering away from him. I knew what that was about. Mongrel bastard had hit her. He pushes her again, shoving her to the ground and walkin’ off past me. He sees me and curls his lip.
“You want some too hobo?”
I look back at the sheila and felt something warm and wet hit me eye. The mongrel spat at me as he walked past. I get up, me bones achin’ and shuffle over to the woman, me sleeping bag draggin’ behind me.
She looks up, her eyes wide, tears runnin’ in black streaks, a red welt across her cheek. Poor darlin’. She hauls herself up onto the bench and scoots down the far end away from me. Not that I could blame her. But she reminded me of Rose. They had the same black hair and little ears. She was shiverin’ something terrible. I hold out me tattered bag to her.
“I know it ain’t much, Miss. But it’s all I got until you can get help.” Me voice ain’t what it used it be. It sounds like rocks being rubbed together. I hardly used it, ‘cept for yellin’ sometimes. She eyes the sleeping bag and then me. Holding out her hand I pass it over and she takes it slowly, watchin’ to see if I’d hurt her.
I turn and go back to me spot. Laying’ down on the cold tiles I think about the man who was yelling on his phone and about the rat bastard who hit his missus. I think about how naïve they were, there was nothin’ more important than family. It’s funny how important everythin’ else seems until there is nothin’ left except memories. You always think there is more time to talk to ‘em, to touch ‘em and to say you love ‘em. But there isn’t and the time ya do get ain’t enough. It’s never enough.
She found me then. The one I wait on every night. She comes to me like an angel floatin’ above the ground. She takes me hand and I feel me heart skip a beat in me bony chest.
“I’ve been waitin’ on you all night Rose.”
She smiles at me and I can believe that she’s here with me and that the last fifteen years have been a dream. I can sleep now knowin’ that she’ll be with me even if I don’t wake up in the mornin’.
Photo by Mark O’Rourke via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons