It was at 2:30 pm on the 26th of Jan 2019 when I noticed this quiet peculiar man sitting next to a restaurant with a black jacket on which looked mucky as if it was ancient and ancestral. I was on my way home after meeting a friend when he caught my eye. I could swear that he was in his early 20s. I don’t know why but something in me made me want to talk to him. So, I skimmed across the signal to the footpath that he was sitting on and tried to catch his attention. I didn’t know how, though. Should I wave my hand? Should I call him? If so, what would I call him? I’ve never seen the guy in my life, let alone know his name.
“Hi!”, I said to him in a hesitant tone. He was jaded and distraught, but he still managed a bare smile. He looked like a fine young man albeit in tattered rags and a crumpled water bottle next to him.
“Are you homeless?” I asked him although I knew the answer.
“Yes, Sir! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here on a blazing afternoon staring at the same blue sky and breathing in all the woeful things that come along the breeze now, would I? “
I could only imagine how hard that must’ve been, sitting there all day literally doing nothing and having no power to do something about it.
“What’s your story? “, I finally asked him.
“It’s a long one “.
“Go on, I’ve got time “, I insisted.
“I’ve been homeless for the last three weeks now. I’ve been going to housing options every day and all I ever hear is “Come back tomorrow”. And, I’ve been sleeping on the road every day “.
He kept a straight face while telling me this. He was down, but his spirit wasn’t. He looked proper. I could sense that he was a good lad.
“What happened?”, I decided that I wanted to hear out his story entirely.
“Well, my dad was acholic and we fell out. So, I left home and have been homeless since”.
“And, Mother?” I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t want to push him. If he wanted to, he’d have told me.
“It is not safe here on the outside. Why don’t you go back? Alcoholic or not, he’s still your father, isn’t he?”, I was surprised that he had left home because of this.
“You don’t know my father”, he chuckled, but I could see the sarcasm and the pain behind it.
“I feel safer here than with him”, there was no hidden humour when he said this.
I didn’t know how to respond to that… I conjured a half smile and moved on to my next question. The more I heard his story, the more questions I had.
“So how are you surviving here?”
“I beg. I beg for food, I beg for cover, I must beg for sleep as well. For people on the road, sleep doesn’t come easy. You never know when you might get stabbed, stamped or spit on. This is no life, this is no way to live”.
“People passing by call me a junkie, a drinker and whatever comes to their mind. Many of them spit on me at late nights. They tell me to get a job, do this, do that, get off your ass… But how? I have no one, no help whatsoever. Who would give a job to someone like me? You don’t know how judgemental people are until you have nothing. I’m just the same as everybody else. I’m a human being, a human being trying to get by”, he snapped and broke down after that last sentence.
I didn’t know how to console him as I had never been in a situation as heart-breaking as this one. I couldn’t even muster a word. I continued listening to him.
“People think the food is the only thing we want..”, he wiped away his tears and calmed himself just enough to talk. “It is not. I want a toothbrush, a towel or a soap even. It is really getting to the point where I ask myself “Do I really want to live or just die?”
“You can’t give up. Don’t give up… You will pull through”, I tried to lift him up.
“Thank you”, he said. “Thank you for even stopping by and talking to me. You know what’s the hardest thing about being homeless?”, he looked at me as if I had the answer and I wish I had, but instead, I nodded a big NO.
I was perplexed and looked at him bemused
“People just walk past me and don’t even acknowledge me. Those eyes don’t even turn towards where I’m sitting. I’m just the same as everybody else, a little smelly and dirty but still a human. Not everybody takes drugs, not everybody drinks; I don’t even like the smell of the drinks”.
“If you had three wishes, what would they be?”, I shot my final question at him.
“A house. A job. A family”.
I was heartbroken when he said that. I thanked him for sharing his story and being honest about it, handed him a bit of money and made my way back home. On the way back, his thought never left me. If only the world had been a better place. How many like him are suffering day in day out. Stories unheard, faces unacknowledged, voices unable to get the message across, hearts deserted and bodies gripped by torment and fear. His three wishes are the ones we take for granted and yet never be grateful for it. This warm conversation with him changed my perspective towards the homeless and the way I looked at things on a gigantic scale. There are people dying on the streets to have an ounce of what we have. Yet, we never realize the sheer importance and the magnitude of what we have at our helm. At least from now on, let us value and cherish the things and people around us who bring colour and patterns to our life. Let us be more apologetic, accepting and less judgemental.