I’m tired of talking about being a writer to avoid actually writing anything. Walking home from university today I decided to just give myself an hour to write a short story with a plot I picked up just walking through town, so here it is. My first short story – unedited, and probably filled with spelling errors and typos. I’ve avoided reading through it so I don’t delete it.
Bitter cold air filters through the nest of hairs protruding from his nose. Before he is aware of anything else, the tangled beard covering his face itches. Horrible things beards. Awful. Itchy, smelly, messy, necessary. As he moves to scratch, the sound of shuffling floods in to his ears. Then foggy grey light pierced its way in through the opening between his eye lids. The feeling of an early October morning was no stranger to the scruffy man of whom the years had not been kind. He had encountered all flavours of the miserable English elements from these slabs upon which he had taken a liken to sleeping. Being a street sleeper was not by any means an easy task. The summers brought relief to stiff joints and the winters brought suffering to all. Finding a decent place to sleep was vital to survival. Finding a decent place to sleep without trouble was even more vital. James had learnt ‘the code’ the hard way, like most youngsters he entered his new zero profit, full-time occupation rather clueless. He had stammered, stepped and slept on turf already claimed. As if being homeless was not difficult enough already, integrating into the community was formidable.
He glanced around now, sitting up slightly to take in the surroundings. Without a watch or calendar small things like vigilance of surroundings were vital. Across the pavement Bill, a slightly less scruffy looking man, who unlike James did have a watch and a calendar was setting up the stools for the weekly market. Wednesday, 7AM, more or less. Bill was one of the regulars, Wednesday mornings were filled with the theme tune of Bill’s witty one liners “fresh strawberries, 3 punnets for a pound. Hurry up before I sober up” had been one of James favourite memories of the summer just past. James scanned the familiarities of the scene that greeted him. Shop managers unlocking, entering and re-locking doors behind them to set up before customers were welcome to pass the threshold, baristas setting up chairs and tables outside, with the usual crowd of early risers and high flyers zombie marching for their first caffeine fix of the day.
A young woman walked passed, black tights, neat skirt, high heeled boots, brown hat fashionably placed over her long cascading hair. She looked at James and smiled. How that infuriated him, the ones who smiled as though his suffering delighted them. Tights in this weather? What a joke.
“Yeah just walk past and smile why don’t you” he called after her. He noticed a hurriedness in her steps as she didn’t look back.
James turned to examine his upturned hat which was always left out over night. Street sleepers never stopped working. Every passer by, every second, every minute was a potential for income. Sleep was no excuse for slacking. As he turned he noticed something unusual. A large blue plastic sack was laid next to him on the floor. How had it gotten there? Was it left for him? James looked around, searching for an owner. He had experienced this kind of charity briefly before. Students had been known to leave bags of varying sizes next to him, usually containing food, socks or old clothes. It happened more regular towards the end of term when the student population left and realised they owned too much to carry. Nice problem. James thought about what he should do with the sack that looked like it might contain .. Soil? He decided to ignore it. Someone else’s business was not his business after all. Besides, it was just bad taste to be seen opening gifts at this time. Soon the day would pick up and being surrounded by new luxuries nearly always resulted in a bad turn over. No, right now he had plausible deniability, best to leave it that way. Just then an unrecognised figure with thin black hair and a thick blue over coat approached him.
“Coffee or tea?” the man asked holding out gloved hands, a cardboard cup in each with a cloud of steam hovering above them.
James considered the man for a moment. He was used to this kind of charity too. Usually passers by inflicted their preferences upon the homeless, reducing them to animals who would scavenge on anything edible and should be thankful for scraps regardless if they liked it. One day when he had felt particularly bitter a young man had given him a burger. He felt it warm in his hands, his mouth was watering, and his stomach had long passed prepared for food. Yet he gave the burger back to him with the remark that he is vegetarian. He went hungry that night but the satisfaction stayed with him even now.
“Tea” he croaked. James noticed the pitifulness in his voice and he hated it.
The man pulled back one hand and replied “milk, sugar?” as he searched in his pockets with his now empty hand.
The cup felt blazing hot in James grasp, he felt the warmth spread through his body, followed by a shiver as he realised how cold he was. His attention drawn to the numbness in his feet.
“Both.. Thanks” James replied. Fat intake was import. Sugar calmed the shakes. Perhaps today would be one of the good ones after all.
The blue coated man lingered, crouching next to him as they sipped away at their drinks. Time passed and nothing was said. James had been on the streets too long, he knew that talking to strangers didn’t mean anything to either of them. Small talk, politeness.. That had vanished from his priorities around the same time as he had vanished from the world. After all being invisible had to have some perks, and not having to obey the structure of polite social conversation was number one as far as he was concerned. Then he saw it, the man was perched upon the mysterious blue sack.
“That yours?” he asked, looking down at the soil sack.
“Yeah” the man replied as he nodded into the distance.
James noticed a disappointed twinge inside of him. The man in the blue coat stood up, leaving his coffee cup secured on the floor. He rummaged around inside a bag for a while. Despite James’s best efforts to remain uninterested a curiosity was aflame inside him. He turned to face the man and noticed him laying out a dirty fabric sheet on the floor. He stabbed the soil sack down the middle and tore it open. Tiny granules of sand spilled out.
“Go find somewhere else to do your busking. Streets big enough. This is my patch, can’t you see I’m already here?” James spoke, sounding less pitiful and more angry now.
The man smiled “I am not here to busk my friend. I am here to create art” and he carried on playing with his sand. Mixing and poking, scraping and shaping.
James felt an furious anger inside of him. Was this man for real? ‘He might as well have that sand pile on my lap’ James thought. He had seen these tricks before. Dogs and pups made in sand. People loved things like that. They sure loved them more than they loved the sight of homeless folk. James had half a mind to tell him to beat it. This was his turf. As he was working out what to say in his head, making sure he got his threat just right, a small girl who had been watching the man sculpt his sand walked over and dropped some coins in James’s still upturned hat. The sand man looked up and smiled at the girl. Then he looked to James and winked.
“At the end of the day, you can by me a cup of tea if you want to” blue coat spoke, before he turned back to his work and slowly pulled his tools over the sand once more.