“And then she invited him over for lunch! Her man’s not dead a year and she’s already at that bowls club on the prowl.” The old woman’s bonnet bounced up and down as she spoke. The rain continued to pound the pavement as she and her friend passed. Sam listened to her story, smiling a little. If they hadn’t been walking right in front of him he might have thought that they were speaking to each other from across the road, their voices were that loud. He wondered if they realised how loud they were, if they were both hard of hearing or just assumed the other was because of their age.
“Some folk are unbelievable.” her friend replied, slowing as they reached the bus shelter. “Oh, where’s my bus pass?” she rummaged in her bag. “I can never find it when I need it.”
“Jeanie, you need to be more careful with things, you’re forever losing that pass. One of these days they won’t give you a new one.” Sam saw this woman had her pass in her hand ready to go.
The bus approached and the woman tore her hand from the bag. “Here it is!” They both stepped forward, arms out, signaling the bus to stop.
Sam watched something flutter from the bag, it caught in the rain and fell to the ground unnoticed. He jumped up from where he sat.
Both woman recoiled, noses wrinkled, eyes wary.
“Sorry no, I don’t have any change,” said one.
“No, you just…”
“She said no!” said the other as the bus pulled up.
Sam could see the £20 note sticking to the ground, rain flattening it against the pavement. “It’s not that, you just…”
The bus doors opened “You alright ladies?” shouted the driver from his seat. The two old women hurried on giving Sam suspicious looks as they past.
“You should be ashamed of yourself pal, harassing little old ladies,” said the driver.
The doors closed leaving Sam standing outside. He reached down and picked up the note, holding it up for them to see through the window but no one took any notice. The bus drove off, splashing through a puddle as it went, the water rising up and further soaking Sam. He shoved the note in his back pocket.
He made his way back to the doorstep he’d been sitting on. Stanley, his large German shepherd watched, a doleful look in his eyes as though saying, “Look at the state of you.” The dog shrugged away from Sam slightly as he sat, not allowing Sam’s wet clothes to touch its dry fur.
“Some friend you are,” Sam grumbled as he patted Stanley’s head.
The day passed slowly, the rain eventually stopping giving Sam some hope of drying out before dark. Not many people were out and those that were hurried past, on their way to somewhere more important.
At lunchtime it finally began to get busy. It always did, as Sam’s doorway was only a few down from the chip shop and a Subway. All the people descended from their offices in search of food.
“Any spare change please?” Sam would say as they passed. They never did have any on their way into the shops but some on their way out would throw a few coppers into his tin.
“Thanks very much, you have a nice day.” Sam would call after them but most never heard. They hurried on, without glancing his way, eyes staring straight ahead or down at a phone screen, their good deed done for the day.
As the schools finished at three the street became busy again, most kids stopping to make a quick pit stop at the chip shop before heading home. Sam tended to stay quiet at this time. Kids valued their change, unlike adults who felt it weigh them down, kids knew that ten pence was worth something even if it was just a sweet in the corner shop.
Sam tucked his tin in close, yesterday a group of teens had kicked it over, laughing as he scrambled to pick up the meager coins from the ground. Stanley had growled at them before they ran off. Adults waiting for buses nearby stared at the ground, uncomfortable with the situation but unwilling to get involved.
A mother with a pram walked by, talking away on her phone as the child toddled along behind her.
“Well tell him from me that he can shove it! If he wants to see her then he can get a court order. I’m fed up with all this… Lilly! Get away from there!”
The little girl had spotted Stanley and made a beeline for him. True to form Stanley had flopped onto his back, legs in the air and belly up ready for a good scratch. His tongue lolled from his mouth and tail wagged as the child reached for him.
“Lilly no! That’s dirty!” the mother cried out, grabbing her hand before she made contact.
“It’s alright,” said Sam. “He’s very friendly.” The woman nodded, her lips a thin line as she dragged the now screaming child away.
“Sorry,” she said into the phone. “Lilly was trying to touch some homeless guys dog…”
As five o’clock rolled around Sam picked up his tin, tipping the coins into his hand before stowing it into his backpack. He counted the coins, just enough for a portion of chips and a hot tea.
He popped into the chip shop and ordered, the man waiting for Sam to place the coins on the counter rather than risk touching his hand. Sam laughed to himself, it was the same every day, the chip shop man afraid he might catch something. When the order was ready Sam took it back out to his doorway rather than sit at the tables inside. He knew from experience that the chip shop man would not stop him sitting, he was a paying customer after all but the disapproving look and unwanted feeling wasn’t worth it.
Stanley stood, eyes bright as Sam returned, the company was much better out here.
“Just one,” he said, tossing the dog a chip. “They’re not good for you.”
He gave him a few more as he drank his tea, unable to ignore Stanley’s large puppy eyes and soft whines.
“You’re a chancer.”
Once he’d finished Sam gathered up his things and put his rubbish in the bin. Stanley followed as he headed for the convenience shop on the corner.
“Wait,” he said at the door and Stanley sat.
Sam picked up items around the shop and put them on the counter under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper.
“How much more can I get?” he asked, holding up the £20 note and the man added to the now almost full carrier bag.
After paying Sam headed for the railway bridge hoping to find somewhere dry to kip for the night. It was getting dark now and the rush of people heading home from work had thinned out. Sam’s bag clinked as he walked, he felt the handle straining, the plastic cutting into his hand but knew it wouldn’t be long before it was empty.
As he reached the bridge he passed the first homeless person he’d met that evening. The boy couldn’t have been much older than sixteen and had a wild, rough look about him but Sam approached without fear.
“Hiya son,” he said. The boy regarded him warily, looking him up and down. Stanley stepped up to Sam’s side as the boy nodded.
“You hungry?” Sam asked. “I’ve got some sandwiches here if you’d like one?” He reached into the carrier bag and pulled out a sandwich, holding it out for the boy. The boy’s hand darted forward, snatching the food away as though afraid the offer would be withdrawn.
“You have a good night.” said Sam and continued on his way.
He passed more people as he went and at each one he stopped offering sandwiches. He was met with a mixed reception, mostly quiet thank yous but at least one,
“I don’t want your fucking sandwich, I’m not a charity case.”
Sam simply shrugged and continued, his bag clinking with every step now that most of the sandwiches were gone.
He found an unoccupied doorway and sat pulling out his raggedy sleeping bag and a piece of cardboard to lie on. Setting out his bed for the night Sam rummaged through the remainder of the plastic bag. He tucked the last sandwich into his backpack for breakfast and emptied the rest.
Three heavy tins spilled out onto the pavement in front of him, clanking together as they did so. Sam looked in the front pocket of his backpack, retrieving a battered-looking tin opener. Stanley nudged him, tail wagging. The tin was quickly ripped open and its contents dumped onto the ground.
“Happy birthday Stanley,” said Sam as the dog lapped up the brown meaty chunks. “Hope you like your present, I know it’s your favourite.”
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