After a yoga session where I finally connected with my practice, I cycled home in high spirits singing at the top of my lungs. I chained my bike up at the supermarket to get some dinner. The homeless girl was sitting opposite the entrance. Unlike other homeless people, she never asks for money. She just quietly sits. Probably because there’s light and it’s safer and it’s a bit warmer.
I dread the homeless people when they’re there. They make me feel helpless. I never know what to do. I always think I should at least ask if they had something to eat. I never do. Give them money? Lord knows what they’ll spend it on? I have resolved to at least acknowledge them. Usually it’s a helpless smile and a murmured ‘Sorry, mate.’ The response is usually ‘Have a nice evening. God bless you.’ I’m never quite sure whether that’s genuine or ironic.
So I went into the market, profusely ignoring her staring at my phone, select some items for dinner. Suddenly, someone taps me on my shoulder, ‘Excuse me, have you got a bike chained up outside?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘A group of guys tried to steal your bike. The homeless girl called us. You might want to bring it in.’
Outside I go to get my bike. I say Thanks to the girl. She says ‘You are welcome’ very quietly. I get my bike, go back inside. Finish my shop. All the while, I’m thinking, what the hell do I do now?
I’ve toyed with the idea before to ask whichever homeless person sits there to watch my bike and in return, I’d get them food. You know, like, work like the rest of us. But the girl just did it. I never asked her and she didn’t have to. But she did. So what do I do?
I resolve to check if she had something to eat and get her something if she’s starving. She politely declines. Someone else is getting her something. But he’s been gone ages and the police have turned up telling her to get lost. Begging is illegal. She doesn’t beg. She just sits quietly. Never asks. And now she’s a bit panicky, because she waits for food but if the police return and she’s still here, they’ll arrest her.
She quietly admits that she just needs to see that she can get somewhere inside. It’s cold. A guy walks past, tosses her some coins. Pennies. I ask her if she’s got somewhere to go. There’s a shelter, but it’s £12. That’s a lot of money per night for someone who has nothing. How much are you short? She counts in her head. She’s got £4. I’m unsure just how she would make up for the rest. A guy walks out of the market, gives her a sandwich.
In my head it clicks. It’s something that in my mind I have done a thousand times, but never in reality. She’s made sure my bike doesn’t get nicked, I’ll make sure she gets to a safe and warm place. I don’t hesitate to give her the money for the shelter. All of it, so that tomorrow she’ll have a £4 headstart. I briefly wonder whether she will squander it, but something in her voice and her eyes says she won’t. I tell her to go and get to the shelter. She gathers her stuff. I say ‘Well, I’ll probably see you round.’ She replies ‘Yes, probably right here.’