Sunday, March 8, 2015

Egg Sandwiich

He sat wedged in the doorway just outside Sloane Square Station. I'd seen him there before. I slowed my pace, swept my damp hair from my face and stood in front of him. The grey clouds were mirrored in his face which was smeared with the dirt of the roads and hidden under his matted grey hair   His tartan  blanket,  wrapped around him like the shell of a snail, was also half exposed to the fine mist.
For a few moments I stood in front of him with my  bag in my  hand. He didn't make a move or look up.  In front of him was a plastic cup with a few pennies in it. I reached into the bag and brought out an egg sandwich, egg with onion and mayonnaise, I'd prepared that morning as I did every Thursday when I went to London. I wondered whether to take it out of it's wrapper and give him half my lunch. I thought that was reasonable as I would still have one sandwich to myself.
Leaving it wrapped I bent down to his level and offered him it to him saying, " Are you hungry? I have a sandwich here . Would you like it??"
He opened  his eyes, piercing blue eyes, and stared  into mine. Nervously I tried  again to give him the sandwich. A smile crept along  his lips and he slowly raised himself up.  " Thank you , yes, thank you, how kind." It was certainly not an accent I expected from a homeless person and it made me wonder how someone so well spoken could end up on the streets. A hand, thin, bruised, appeared from under the blanket and stretched towards mine. An overpowering scent -body odor, urine, damp clothes, street rubbish, -  came in with my next breath and lodged itself at the bottom of my lungs. I couldn't contain the cough that it brought on.
 I managed to control it after a few minutes and sat myself down beside my new friend.
It wasn't easy. I was extremely uncomfortable and a little scared. I wanted to have a conversation with him, but where to start. Also, he seemed a little unsure of what to do too. I felt like a right chump, sitting there in the rain, well, the ground was wet and the fine mist was getting worse. I started asking him how he came to be homeless. And while he enjoyed my sandwiches he told me his story.
Michael had  lived in Oxford with his wife and two daughters. He'd had a good job with an IT company and they  had everything they wanted - big house ( with huge mortgage), two cars, lots of activities for the girls. All seemed well.
That was until, one day, out of the blue he was made redundant. He tried to get another job but months went by and only rejections came. After a year the house was repossessed as the mortgage was not being paid.
His wife's mother took the family in while they got back on their feet, but the shame he felt and the difficulty living with his in laws made him depressed. Finally, one day he just up and left with just a rucksack and headed for London. He vaguely thought that he would find work in London and then go back and sort things out with his family.
That was two years ago. He didn't feel he could go back as he was so ashamed.
I asked him if he had contacted his wife to tell her he was alive at least. He said he hadn't and that she wouldn't care, that she had no time for him since he lost his job.
I offered to contact his family for him, to let them know he was ok.
"No, " he shouted, and then more softly, "Thank you, but no."
"Well, look, I have my phone here, why don't you talk to them yourself."
Without answering he turned away from me. The space between us became a gulf that couldn't be crossed.
That was the end of our conversation.
He was obviously not ready to return to his life.
I went on my way with mixed feelings.
I had been able to help a homeless person by giving him food, but I wasn't able to help him move on and off the street.
I wonder if he'll be there next week.

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