He wakes to morning once more. He has survived the night. It must still be early, because the streets are bare. A faint wind blows the debris from the day before; a bottle of coke invades his blanket, tapping him on the knee. Some liquid still remains in it. Unscrewing the cap he downs it in one gulp. The roads are starting to fill up with cars now; it is approaching rush hour. He pulls out a worn plastic tub and sets it out before him; there is some loose change from yesterday. He strokes his dog, which lies down beside him in the morning sun. People are starting to spill out and into the station. Some are in suits and some are in casual winter clothing. They rush past in a blur of colour. Most of them don’t notice him sitting there, blending into the dirt. It is as though he is part of the city walls. They are wired up with I- pods or are shouting into their mobiles; immersed in a world of their own. A man in a pinstripe suit is rushing towards the station, a cigarette clutched between his fingers; he sees the homeless man, and either out of pity or out kindness gives him the cigarette. He takes it and thanks the man, but he is out of sight so does not hear. He sucks in the smoke and his lungs burn with dehydration. He does not care though; anything that satisfies is good enough for him.
The chaos of the morning is over as quick as it began. He decides to leave his base and try his luck in getting onto a train. He hangs around the station, his dog in tow, waiting for a chance to get through the barriers. About an hour passes, yet time is meaningless; he will wait for an opportunity. He bites at his dirt encrusted nails as he searches the station. A group of friends are clustered together shouting; heading for the barriers. He tucks in behind them and just about gets through. A pretty girl, who is well dressed, looks at him in disgust as he pushes behind her. At least he has been noticed, even if it is for the wrong reasons. The train for Victoria is approaching and he hopes that there are no ticket inspectors; he gets frustrated when he is chucked off the train. He sits down on his own, away from the other passengers. The lull of the train makes him sleepy, but a foreigner who is speaking at a great volume prevents sleep. The loud woman laughs into her phone, whilst tapping away on her laptop; she has no regard for the people around her, who try to engross themselves into their books, into the made up world that has been created. He stares out of the window and watches the scenery become more concrete and threatening than it already was. The train has reached its final destination and the doors release the remaining passengers. He makes his way into the throng of people and instead of waiting he pushes through the barriers this time.
‘Hey’, a station man shouts. The man starts to run after him, but cannot get through the crowds, so gives up with out even trying. The station man knows it is not worth the bother; the scruffy man obviously has no money and no information to label him as a part of society. He is out of breath from the short run as he makes his way on foot to Leicester Square. The buildings close in around him as he walks through the cluttered streets, his stomach screams with hunger as he passes rows of takeaway places and restaurants that he can smell, but cannot taste. In front of him a couple of teenage boys eat burgers; they speak with foul language and walk with a stoop. The tracksuit bottoms they wear show their boxers; the peaks of their caps are the wrong way round. The white boy throws his empty box onto the floor and the black one chucks his half eaten one towards the bin, but misses. He sees this as his chance and picks it up off of the floor and stuffs it into his mouth; people look at him with repulsion or they ignore what they do not want to see.
He wanders in no particular direction, the crowds engulf him; he becomes part of the mass. He is sheltered amongst them, yet he is anonymous. Hours pass as he watches the world go by; everyone walks along in a separate bubble, afraid that one day it will burst. He sees his old friend slumped at the park’s edge, a worn pot laid out in front of him. His head is bent forward; his possessions lay tossed around him. He is glad to see his familiarity; he rushes towards him, happy to know another person.
‘Hello stranger,’ he says.
‘Who’re you?’ The man grumbles, his eyes not even looking into the other man’s.
‘It’s me, the guy who has the base at East Croydon station,’ he says, hurt that the other man’s memory seems to have gone.
‘Right,’ the man says, making eye contact at last. ‘Oh yeah, you’re that geezer that gave me some munch that time.’
‘Yeah, that’s right; thought I might still find you hanging here. What’s been going down?’
‘Not much, but few days back, my lad who chatted to me, that used to make base outside the tube station, got a beating. He got so scared, that I’ve not seen him, he’s picked up camp and gone.’
‘Shame that is. Maybe he’ll find better things? I get bored with Croydon, they’re all so tight. I like to travel up here and feel the warmth of others.’
‘Warmth; there’s none of that up here. I feel lucky if I get given a fag and a few coppers to get a can of lager. That your dog?’ The man says, only just noticing it.
‘Yeah, the name’s milky; she’s a babe ay?
‘Lovely; wish I still had my dog. I used to love the company and the heat of him when it was cold at night.’
‘I know what you mean; I’d be lost without Milky.’
‘Been nice talking to you and all, but it’s getting dark and travelling back to your patch on a Friday night can lead you into all sorts of trouble. Why don’t you come back again soon, when the weather’s better and people are in better moods?’ ‘Will do; you look after yourself.’
He leaves the man and scurries along with his dog at his heels, full of satisfaction at seeing an old face and having an equal conversation.
The old man sits in his patch, watching the other man drift away with Milky. He feels sad that his brief encounter is over, yet it will be one that he cherishes. He knows it is Friday, because the bars fill up early. The workers file into them, still dressed in their suits. He hates the weekends; bad things always seem to happen then.
The need for food takes hold of him and he is tired of waiting for money that probably won’t come. He gathers his possessions and leaves his space, entering the unfamiliar. Travelling is not something he does often, because he feels safer when he stays where he knows. This change of heart must have come from his fellow lost soul. Darkness is apparent now, as the city is lit up with advertisements and signs. The signs are everywhere, telling you where to go and what to do. He feels overpowered by them. It is as though he has just taken in how small and insignificant he is in contrast to the city surrounding him. It engulfs him and threatens him as though he has no right to be there. He shivers; feeling like someone is following him.
He decides to take the tube to try and escape the city and to see how far it could take him. People flood down the steps and towards the barriers that consume their tickets, before spitting them out. There are too many people. So no one notices when he slips through the barriers and down into the stomach of London. The stale air suffocates him. He is trapped and feels out of control. The boundaries have marched forwards and his space is being crushed. He no longer feels free; he is moving along with others as though they are all one product along the production line. The tube arrives, but he does not bother to look at where he will be taken too; places are irrelevant. Instead of suits, there are short skirts, hoods and couples now. Nonetheless they all recoil from his stench. As the tube progresses, the doors open and close, freeing some and capturing others. They are all the same, except they congregate in separate packs, grouped together by chance. No one notices anyone else. He wonders how they can live so close together, but be so far away from one another.
He must have gone to sleep for a while, because when he regains a sense of himself, he feels disorientated and scared. The carriage is still full, but the shouting coming from the seats opposite him must have startled him out of sleep. A couple of young men are shouting at a lone man beside them.
‘Don’t make me cause a scene, or I’ll cut you,’ the muscly man shouts.
‘Fuck off,’ replies the victim.
‘I wouldn’t get lippy, Tyrone means what he says, so hand over your fucking phone and wallet,’ the stocky man sneers.
‘What? So you think you’re going to get away with this shit on a crowded tube?’ The victim says.
‘Does it look like any fucker on this train is looking at your skinny ass? No one gives a toss,’ Tyrone says, leaning in towards his victim.
The homeless man looks around him and sure enough the passengers ignore this act of violence. He too does not bring attention to himself by looking at the men directly. He fears for his safety. He does not know this victim. He does not care, as he too is the victim. Why should he show another some compassion when he is shown none either.
‘Why are you giving us hassle? Give us your gear and we’ll get out your face. It’s simple,’ the stocky man says.
The victim ignores them, but they do not stop. Tyrone punches him in the face and spits, ‘Give me your shit, or I’ll cut your ass.’ The homeless man sees the glint of a small blade concealed up Tyrone’s sleeve and he is scared. The victim looks pale and his front has cracked. He knows he must hand over his belongings to avoid further damage. He hands over his wallet and phone and Tyrone and the stocky man laugh. The victim has been raped of his confidence and respect; he is in this moment no better off than the homeless man that he has not noticed opposite him.
The men leave at the next stop, feeling pleased with themselves. The victim is left feeling alone and confused. The homeless man cannot quite place his feelings, because he does not see the point. He is detached from society, but he cannot escape it. He drags his tired body out of the tube at the next stop, even though he has not reached the end of the line. He feels that his journey has come to a close for tonight so will set up camp into the new world above him. He does not bother to see where he is, for he feels that place has no meaning, when there is nowhere to call his own. He gets regurgitated back out into the chilly night, and the city before him looks the same as anywhere else; a manmade nest in which a society inhabits. He looks over his shoulder, feeling a presence burning into his back. The night is still young for the drunks, yet for him it feels like it is drawing to a close.
He looks around himself again, before rummaging in an over flowing bin for food. His hands touch the dirt and slime, but he has grown use to this feeling. He digs deeper, searching for anything to take away the hunger. He cuts his hand on something sharp and he grabs the violent object. He pulls out a plastic tub and pasta still remains at the bottom, congealed and huddled together. He scoops it into his mouth and the taste is putrid. The pasta slides down his throat and he gags. He is sickened and unsatisfied, but he cannot bear to try and find something more edible. The people walking by look at him in disgust. They do not understand him, yet they behave like they do. He is tired and beyond hope, so he withdraws into the sidelines. He lays down his worn sleeping bag; the one thing he can call his own. He slides into it, shivering with the wind. Girls walk past him wearing so little, when they have the potential to wear more. He feels hatred towards these people that voluntarily walk through the night, when they have a home and a family that they could be surrounded by. He pulls up his sleeping bag and does not bother to get out his money pot; no one will notice him there alone in the dark. Nobody knows who he is, so why should anyone care? He feels sleep approaching and wonders if a new day will come, not that it would matter if it did not.
Two homeless men sleep alone tonight, no different from the last night. I wonder why these men have lost their lives and now live in bleak solitude. They must have had an identity once. It is scary how what makes a person up can be lost as easily as it can be made. I feel for these men. Just one day in their life has made me realize that an individual is important, and it is us as individuals that make what we know to be a society. In London millions of people will pass by everyday, only to vanish into the walls of the city. The loneliness is overpowering, even when there is a home to go to. The lost souls who I saw today live with the mass, but are excluded from its production, by their inability to contribute to it. I must now return home, but I will remember these nameless men, because I have bothered to acknowledge their existence. I can only imagine their thoughts, because no one could ever know how another really feels. This detachment screams out the loneliness that is inside all of us. I feel warm with the prospect of returning to my own space, yet I am troubled by the men I have shut out of it. In this society the self comes first. We mould the city to fulfil our needs, but ultimately the city will form an identity for the self in order for us to fit the puzzle.