I remember taking refuge in the arrhythmic movement of the many legs that passed me by. Like a slow flow of thick water with a lot of debris in it. Not much colour, not much movements on individual level. Just a constant flow of movements too much alike each other to identify one.
At moments some one would slow down and drop a penny into my paper cup. I sat on the pavement, my back against a stone wall. My towel was wrapped around my legs to keep me warm some. I had set up a patch of cardboard to my right to shelter me from the wind. It folded over my head a bit, sheltered me from view too. A tiny paper cup stood in front of me, trying to collect money.
As if I had nothing to do with it, I would just look at it, sometimes feeling a sense of wonderment about the whole scene. My hands tugged away in the folds of my knees, my lower legs wrapped in that colourful towel, that cardboard that was reaching just over my head, my feet in dirty socks, my shoes warn down. And in front of them that paper cup. All by it self. A rock in it, sitting at the bottom, to keep it from blowing away in the gusty winds.
I would look out for the police all the time. They did not like beggars in their streets. They caught me once before, took away my cardboard and the paper cup. They scolded me and kept the coins before sending me off again. Since then I could see them coming from far. They had a specific walk to them that made them stand out in the crowd. They did not move with the flow. It was like they were a rolling black boulder in an all white water stream. When ever I spotted them I would quickly pick up my cup, get up and I would start to walk away as calmly as possible, submerse myself in that stream. I would walk and disappear just around the corner. Let them pass. Wait a bit. And then sit down again.
I had now gathered enough to pay for the night shelter today. So I got up, picked up the cup and coins, rolled up my towel, tossed away the cardboard sheet and started to walk into town. The coins in my hand in my pocket. I was looking forward to some soup, bread. Maybe there was some macaroni with cheese. A night in a bed. A shower too. It was cold so I hurried. I did not want to be turned down because there was no bed available.
I was too early. The night shelter was still closed. Only the counter for the issuing of methadone was open. I was no user so I was not allowed inside yet. I was not allowed to hang around at the front of the shelter either. There was fear of nuisance in the neighbourhood, no doubt. So I walked away again, after a volunteer at the shelter “Shoo shoo”’d me off.
I was hungry. Maybe I should just buy myself some food. Waiting for the soup seemed unnatural now that I had some money in my pockets. I was really hungry. As I passed a stall in the market, selling fried chicken, I could not resist. I bought some legs and wings and walked off with the prize.
As I sat at the edge of the fountain, catching a little of the spray in my neck, my mouth watered with the smell of the fried chicken in the paper bag. I opened it, took out a leg and started to eat. Good God, this was good! Warm, salty, spiced, the grease in my mouth and smeared on my cheeks and leaking on my chin, dripping and slippery. My fingers stained with orange, smelly grease too. I licked and sucked my hands clean and tried to use the outside of the paper bag to clean my face again. I do not think that actually worked.
As I approached the night shelter for the second time, I took out the coins left in my pocket. Fuck me. I was about a tuppence short to buy myself a night in a bed. The shower, the soup. It all had to wait a bit. With my hunger I had been too greedy for the chicken wings. I could feel I overate. My stomach, I was not feeling very well.
I stopped walking. What was the use in walking if there is no destination? Then I walked again. Maybe there was some loose change left behind in the telephone booths in the city. All I needed was a couple of pennies. I remembered wearing penny shoes going to school. How daft. How posh. Having money decorating ones shoes.
I was not feeling well. It was cold. I desperately wanted to be inside tonight. I wrapped my beach towel around me. Walking. All this walking.
Oh, the arrogance in wearing pennies on your shoes…