It was at thirteen years old, that Hanif first begged. A morning in March, cold and bright, his Mother left him during an argument. He had been sure she wouldn’t go, wouldn’t have the determination to walk away from him. But she had, and the air thinned as she sloped off, her worn sandals slapping against her feet and the pavement in turns.
As the crowds had dispersed into a steady stream of shoppers and business men he had begun to panic. There was a moment when he could taste his heartbeat, it felt a solid thing. He tightened his jaw to keep the taste of steel and the heartbeat down. Hanif walked the streets, bent on being invisible, he willed the boys on bikes outside Burger King not to notice him.
It was at Central Station, between a poster about finding Jesus and one about finding cheap office space that he first said to a woman dragging along a surly-looking child
Both stopped, shocked with that moment’s sudden collision and were silent for a second. Hanif’s mind trailed on after the woman, picturing her taking her child to a small café for lunch, trying on shoes. For a moment something that might not have been hung in the air, then Hanif began to talk and it was dissipated with the sound of his voice.
The lady before him, child wrapped around her leg like a small monkey was listening. On either side of them people milled about, talking on phones and looking for train times. But the woman’s attention was firm; she was giving Hanif what he needed, what he was begging for; time. It occurred to him as a sting travelled from his nose into his eyes and then down his face in tears, that he wanted to be the child next to the woman, rather than himself. There had been a spike of remorse in his throat as he thought of his street and the terraced house where his mother watched her soaps and doted on her dog.
The woman had been sympathetic. He remembers the moment when she took him by the arm to the guard on duty. Sat on the step of the guard’s gate she crouched before him and peered into his face. A hot and choking sadness came over him. She, clutched by her offspring gently blew in his red strangled face. A second seemed like a minute. The breath, smelling softly of coffee had woken him. Life carried on, the collision couldn’t have lasted for more than five minutes, but today Hanif feel that breath on his face, again, awakened by a warm wave of air from the open door of Starbucks. For now, at least, he walks on thinking of that day, that woman.
Later he sees the curve of his mother’s flabby upper arms against his cheek as they are reunited. Still today, Hanif remembers how the stranger narrowed her eyes in empathy as he explained the problem to her. The most important thing at that moment was getting back to his mother. But as he walks down Bold St to his usual door step, what becomes important is the time. The time and the smell of coffee.
It is as he is thinking of this woman and her fat-bottom-lipped child that it begins to rain.
The milling shoppers begin to take cover under obliging awnings of the stylish interior design shops that boast on the pavement. A man walks, hands in jacket face to his toes and shoulders curled past in a blur of self-involvement. For a moment won't occur again until the early hours of the morning, Bold Street is almost empty. Hanif, hood up, face to the rain is sat on the tiled stoop as even the woman selling Big Issue steps into Starbucks.
I have money to spend mate. Jane shakes the coarse sleet mixture of rain and grime from her high-vis. The people behind the counter exchange a look as she enters and at this she knows, her stay will be for one drink. ‘Just for one and then move on’, a mantra her father used for drinking in public houses, when he was alive.
Her drink is handed to her with the strained politeness of the waitress. The smile of her tall spindle-limbed colleague staying almost manically fixed as she passes.
Jane thinks, sitting down, how this looks. Her face, so promising in the photograph she has from her time, happily spent, hasn’t taken exposure and fear well. The fear, she thinks as she holds her coffee to her chest, the fear is what distorts everything.
The bailiffs, it started with them. And now against this hardwood and teal paint back drop, Jane’s face is the twin of itself eight months prior, opening the door of her dying Mother’s house to a man. That first bailiff.
A group of office workers shuffle past, ‘The Black Pants Brigade’ she smiles into her coffee and looks down at her trainers. Considering the perks, it is fair to say that this day, with a full cup and enough money to spend the night in a B&B instead of a doorway, is a good day for Jane. She ponders this, retracing her steps and concentrating with exhaustive detail she recalls each thing she did this morning. The rain drives on, rattling the gutters outside as she wonders if this morning, wearing her hat while she went to the soup kitchen in Seel Street was the key. How close did she walk to the traffic as she dragged her feet across the pavement in the dusky morning? Was the water warm this morning when she cleaned herself in the toilets at St John’s market? Jane knows that this day will be a model for the next ten in the hope that some order and repetition will follow.
The room is slowly clearing and as the staff bristle behind their counter, shoulders sunken and face wind burned, she knows it’s time to leave. But for now there is a moment of absolute peace that hovers around her. There is a moment when the crass and brash of the outside world and its black wearing boys with joints and bad attitudes and be-wigged women with their curlers in, are gone and there is no one to sneer.
When Jane is walking from the safety of the coffee shop to her post a man flickers in front of her. There is a drop in her gut as she recognises his face. Michael and a vision their short perfunctory love-making graces her mind, a soft veil to the grey bright of day. But Michael walks towards her and the blubber of memory dissolves. She is confronted with the harsh grey-black of the pavement. His mouth moves to make form her name
The world keeps spinning, and though she is temporarily rooted to the spot, a reaction traces itself from her synapse to her feet. In one jagged movement she turns and is walking away when she hears
The voice he used when he told her it wasn’t her, when he told her; actually, it was Julia from accounting. He requests this of her, in the same genuine, naive tones.
She walks quicker, his voice now lost in the crowds and dodging push-chairs she is away. It’s not until she tastes salt she know she is crying. The solid and thick layer of dry skin that makes up her face feels like a shield as she gasps now, tasting the air.
She sees before her a young man playing a guitar and dives right, into a square embellished with dirty square night clubs that wait. In this almost evening light, they call out something in her. She squints through tears at the bars on the windows of of these rancid houses, and turns away from the building that now, with its darkened door incites an infant-like need inside her. She takes a lurching step forwards before almost immediately turning back on herself again and answering. entering.
Dan knows this night will be fruitless. As the clouds pearl from moody blue to an almost seductive purple the night is growing. He glances down past his old battered guitar into his hat where glints like a pirate’s gold, a grand total of two pounds thirty two waits, glitters. He considers, briefly, packing up at the end of this song up relents knowing that the warm wind endowed by the rain will be a lost time if he doesn’t stay.
Two girls, clad in short skirts stroll past gliding easily on their heels and as they enter what is evidently their first bar. As they disappear Dan catches the smell of hairspray clinging to the air.
I would like to leave this city,
It is getting late and excited groups of students, natives and underagers clamber past him more frequently, in gaggles. The occasional ten pence is thrown in or around his hat and the music from clubs begins to mix with the shouts, screeches and booming chants of the drunken youth.
Strumming softly on his guitar and crooning an almost silent song now, a vision of his bedsit and its square television occupies his thoughts.
This old town don’t smell too pretty.
Swaggering down Bold Street an air of menace entirely unachievable by Dan himself comes a broad shouldered man. Keeping his eyes on his fret board and singing still Dan waits for the man to pass. The invasive smell of beer haunted by the sharp tones of aftershave is around, but not past Dan. In fact, it is stood directly in front of him. Dan breathes deeply into his lung to ready himself for the inevitable hurt to follow.
All that comes is a soft yet steady arm around his shoulder. He raises his eyes to the bald head of this man, and his upper torso wrapped in a too-small white shirt.Carrying on playing and raising his shoulder Dan, joined with the man sing together-
I can feel the warning signs running around my mind.
Dan plays on; with more attention to the resonating notes he strikes up around the two of them and watches the man croon ,with a sensitivity that seems almost alien to his frame, the rest of the song.
People walk past, Dan thinks more than know, they must be walking past, but for this suspended second he and this man are connected by the dull tangs of noise emerging from his guitar and the brave trembling voice of the man himself.
I’ve been lost I’ve been found but I don’t feel down. No I don’t feel down.
The fella walks away, ambling onwards towards the town centre and its lure of cheap drinks, cheap women and other men smelling of cheap aftershave.
Replayed in Dan’s head as he slings his guitar on his back and picks up his hat is the unaffected purity in the man’s voice and the way the street light hit his closed eyes as he whispered those final notes. A second follows another when, it seem by coincidence there is a lump in his throat.
But now he is walking himself towards the town centre and a group of men in black tops and the same jeans pipe up ‘Oi oi!’ at a passing girl who even in her state of undress has the decency to blush.
With a shake of his head and a quickening of his step Dan proceeds passing a man sat on the tiled stoop of a shop.
It is early now. Maybe five o’clock in the morning as Hanif thinks; the time he likes best, when the birds seem to sing solely for him. The street lamps and the odd in-between light of the sky make Bold Street look like a stage. One last couple walk past, the girl teetering almost off her heels and the man with a lustful fire and alcohol induced need in his eyes; cling to one another. The girl drops a pound in his lap. He mummers his thanks and looks towards the opening of Central Station.
He knows, watching the couple turn the corner to their waiting taxi that this day will be an end to all this. Someone will find him. His Mother will come back for him. A strong hope tears through his stomach and he imagines the birthdays, Christmases and evenings he and his Mother will spend together, now they are reunited. He nods to himself, hugs his shoulders firmly, looks up and down the street. For a moment that won’t happen again until this time the next day, Bold Street is empty. Almost empty.
Kashka Georgeson is 21, and currently studies English & Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. Her interest in writing was sparked at age seven when she received Shakespeare’s works as a gift.