They are well-intentioned. For the most part. They walk into the park in their little groups, merry with lager and rum-and-coke, laden with sleeping bags and thermos flasks and rolled up ground mats. They’ll huddle together with their fellow do-gooders, music and torch shenanigans keeping them amused. They won’t sleep a wink, of course, but that’s not really the point, is it? They’ll have a tale to tell, a shared experience, something to post on their Facebook timeline. They’ll raise some money of course, let’s give them their due. Not that any of it will reach me, huddled on my bench on the less salubrious side of the park.
But they don’t know what it’s like when there’s no wristwatch counting down on their experience.
They don’t feel the mud, pendulous on the bottom of dawn-damp trousers.
They don’t have to sleep with their eyes half-cracked, waiting for a kick or a gob or a can of piss exploding over them.
They haven’t felt cold, not really. The kind of cold that tightens your tendons. The kind of air that you don’t want to draw too deeply into your lungs because it might bring out with it some of your last body heat. They don’t leave the drop of snot on the end of their nose because to wipe it away would let some of the warmth out of a sleeping bag.
They wouldn’t understand why you don’t sing for coppers, or play guitar, or do tricks. Like a dog. They don’t understand that, after a while, the cold congeals your hope until it is viscous, unable to generate its own heat.
They think that, if they were in a similar position, they’d turn up at a café and through sheer force of personality earn themselves a week’s placement, that by the end of the month their arse-crawling gratefulness and can-do attitude would have them accepting an assistant manager position.
They don’t know what it is to recoil at the smell of your own body, to lower your eyes when walking past the glossy shop fronts for fear of seeing your grease-sheened skin and bloodshot eyes. They don’t have to run their tongue over their own gritty teeth each morning, craving a sink to rub their face in. They won’t know what it is to be encased in your own stiff clothes for lack of an alternative, to look forward to the next sunny day, the next meal, the next drink, the next soup kitchen with a kind of a rabid need. They won’t understand.
How could they?
***Thanks for reading. As always, any comments much appreciated!***