He sits there, huddled, in the alcove of an abandoned doorway near the railway station. A threadbare suitcase and a brace of soiled quilts, his only possessions.
There is an unmistakable stench of cheap liquor and urine when one walks past him. When people turn up their noses as they pass him, it is difficult to tell if they do it because of the revolting smell or because they are disgusted by his hoarse “Spare some change please?“, knowing where their change would inevitably end up!
As I wait at the bus stop, I wonder at the cheek of the guy… begging for change that he will use to buy his nightly bottle of rum.
On an impulse, I turn towards the guy and wade through the stench as I approach him.
“Spare some change, sonny?“, comes a hoarse whisper as a pudgy palm with chunky fingers is stretched towards me.
“For a bottle of rum, no doubt!“, I blurt out before I can think of what I’m saying.
The outstretched fingers curl into a fist as the hand withdraws and the guy smiles weakly through an unkempt, shaggy silver beard.
“That’s right. A bottle of rum!“, the fist suddenly opens and the hand is stretched out again. The smile is gone as he impatiently demands, “can you spare some change please!?”
“You must think I’m an idiot to give you any money! Go buy some food. Not rum!”
As soon as I say that, the light seems to go out from glaucomic eyes as he turns his head away to look into the distance, his hand now resting on the suitcase that fits snugly between him and the wall. He is silent for a few moments before speaking… his head still turned away from me…
“It be the rum that keeps me warm at night, sonny! It be the rum!!”
Photo credit: Homeless by a Wall by Garry Knight
Also published on Medium.