FIT FOR HEROES

Chapter one

Jesus Christ! You scared the hell out of me. What are you doing leaning over me like that? And what’s the staring about?

You may not have meant any offence, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to nearly scare a man half to death!

Okay! Okay! I accept your apology.

You aint got any drink on ya, have ya? You don’t drink. Typical. I get awoken by a tea totaller. Just my luck. Move out the way and let me look. What am I looking for? Ah there it is. It’s the last but there’s enough to wet me whistle. A bit early in the morning for alcohol? Who are you the liver police? It’s blooming freezing, I need this bit to numb the pain. If that’s okay with you? It is. I’m so grateful for your generosity. Not!

Cold last night? Cold last night! It was bitter. No bitter don’t cut it. Let me try and explain. Have you ever been cold twenty-four-hours of the day? I don’t mean a bit chilly. I’m talking about the cold that seems to have permeated through to your bones. May be permeated isn’t the word I’m looking for. It’s as if a virus, say like the flu or something, has eaten its way through your flesh and is now chewing at your bones. But then it’s a lion and its sharp teeth are ripping through your flesh and bone simultaneously and yet separately. That’s bad enough, but in this weather it never goes. There’s never any sun to make you feel warm. Not even enough sun to give the promise of warmth. It’s a wretched beast! Oh well, you gotta feel it to know it I suppose. Although, from your sad expression you seem to have some kind of empathy through experience.

No? You’ve never been cold at all? That’s hard to believe.

Anyway, I need to get my shit together and start moving.

Can you follow?

I aint the master of your life. You can do what you like. Only thing is, if you are coming with me – keep up! Can you step aside so I can wrap me blanket up? That’s better. No. There’s no reason to take it with me. This will be a good place to sleep tonight, so I’ll store this in that bush over there. I’ll take the little blanket, it’s good to sit on and not too heavy to carry. You don’t want to be sitting on the floor without some protection for your backside. It can give you piles. Have I ever had piles? You’re joking anit ya? I’ve got piles now – I’ve had them for as long as I’ve been on the streets. Was it because of the cold floor? That and the poor food, lack of food and a lot of the squits. Squits? Diarrhoea. You’ve never had the trots? It doesn’t matter. Trots. Squits, diarrhoea, they’re all one and the same thing. Come on we need to get a move on.

Fair play, you have some stamina and a good gait. Was you in the military? No. Strange I could have sworn from your gait and posture you were military. Oh well, it matters not.

Look! The only thing is, I’m going to stand around by the station and try and get some money for food and drink, so don’t get in my way. You wont? That’s fine by me.

This is a good spot here, not too near to the station, yet close enough for them to have not reached a good walking pace. Oh yes that matters. The more open the exit the less chance they’ll give you any change. Get them too soon and they’ll have the urge to get away from you. They’re too quick alighting from the trains; too many of them too close together. You got it yeah! Deferred responsibility. There’s that part of the collective that allows them to believe someone else will give you money. Right again. They also have strength in numbers and feel less impelled to donate. I’m telling you what! You sure have the concept sewn up. You’d make a real good beggar.

I couldn’t agree more; no you are completely right, it’s not a position to aspire to. Trust me. I haven’t met anyone that has chosen to be a beggar.

Yeah, yeah. I’ve read that junk in the papers too. People with Mercs and Jags parked around the corner while they’re begging for pennies. I’ve never seen it. No. To tell you the truth, even if you were the best beggar in the world I can’t see how you could earn enough to buy a Jag or a Merc. You’d have trouble buying a secondhand Rover.

Was it? That’s the first time you’ve seen me smile today? Not a lot to smile about. No, no! Don’t worry you haven’t offended me. No! You have nothing to apologise for. You’re right I suppose. It was just that I tickled myself with that joke. In truth? The best day I’ve ever had was fifty quid. But thirty of that came form one bloke. I didn’t want to take it – he seemed as poor as me, but he wouldn’t have any of it. I had a good day that day. Not only was I full, but I got a bed and a bath for the night. Bloody loved the bath. There’s nothing better than a hot bath after a cold day. Showers are cool, but a hot bath, oh god that’s the best. Lying there feeling the heat radiate through to your core. Oh god! Have to stop this before it sends me insane. Made me feel blooming cold. I’m going to have to walk a little; need to give me feet a stamp and my legs a slap. Have to keep the blood moving. My own fault for thinking about the bath. Doing it again! Sorry about this! It’s really crap when your head thinks of warm things. You’d think so wouldn’t you. It doesn’t work that way when you’re permanently cold. No! You don’t get succour from thoughts. Not like you did when you thought happy things when your belly was full, or when you were in love. Interminable cold is one of the worst of sufferings I find.

Sorry about that. Sometimes the cough comes without invite. You know what I mean? I didn’t feel it coming on. It’s not as bad as it was. I don’t disagree. It does sound bad, but it is better than it was I can assure you. It’s definitely on the mend. Phlegm? It’s not green like it was; as you can see from what landed on your garment. Thanks for the concern but I can assure you it’s not as bad as it was. Excuse me a second, here may be a cup of tea or a fag.

May be we’re a bit too far from the station now. Did you see him? It was funny how he accelerated but tried to stiffen his legs so I couldn’t hear his change rattle. It’s par for the course. At the end of the day it’s his money and I can’t force him to give me any of it. I mean. As you well know, begging is a crime. You didn’t? Well well, I am surprised. Oh yes. Always has been as far as I know. Being homeless is technically a crime too. You may look surprised but it is true. I wouldn’t lie to you. Homelessness is vagrancy and that’s a crime. Homelessness is loitering and that’s a crime too. As a homeless person one has to beg and that’s a crime too. In short, we homeless are criminals. You may look surprised but it’s true.

Excuse me a second, this lady wants to speak to me. She’s a good woman and will give me at least a pound…..

Sorry I was so long she loves to chat. Rich? No. Quite the opposite. She works part-time as an office cleaner, today is pay day and she’s given me £1.50. That’s a lot of money for her. Every time I see her she gives me at least a pound. Yes I do. It seems bad to take it off her, but as you saw she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She always protests if I say I would prefer she’d keep it. She says it’s her money and she will do with it as she wants. She has a husband. Her children are grown. No I don’t think there is an ulterior motive for her giving me money. What do you mean by that?

To save her soul. I shouldn’t see why she would need to. From what I know of her life and how hard she has worked and toiled, I think her sins were absolved at birth. She doesn’t have to tell me the ins-and-outs, I can see the suffering in her face. I don’t know what it is about people like her but, those with the least seem to be the most generous. Watch I’ll show you what I mean….. See him over there? He’s loaded. Barrister with his own inns. I think that’s what they call it. Inns of court or something. Yes, I think it does have something to do with a pub. It’s like when they get invited to the bar. It’s quite literally a bar. I know. It does seem a little odd. Different to the likes of you and me. Totally different perspective on life and their position within it. Him? He’s worth an absolute fortune. Look at his right-hand pocket. See the bulge? Now watch.

Did you hear him? Yep he did. I’ve got no change, my armpit. I don’t know what it’s about, I’m really stumped. Seems to be a major problem with wealth, the more they have the less they want to spend. No! It’s more than that. The more they seem to believe it’s theirs alone. Oh well, don’t get me started on politics.

Give me a second I may get a quid off this person.

Twenty pence… still better than nothing, I suppose.

It was all he had in change. And it was. You can’t ask for more than them giving you their last twenty pence. You cynic, you! He may well have had notes in his pocket, and may be, he could have afforded more but. I mean, after all, it is his money. Look! If I get twenty pence off everyone I ask then, may be I too could afford a Merc or a Jag.

What’s so funny? God, you really don’t have much of a sense of humour. I was referring back to the tabloid nonsense about beggars having loads of money. I think it was a wicked headline; a truly wicked story. I wonder how many people didn’t give to homeless people because of that bull. You never know with the human mind. Can never work out what people really take into their heads.

I remember when I read the piece; the piece is an understatement, they talked of it for weeks, months even. I felt reserved about giving to homeless people, I remember feeling a little cautious for a while. It didn’t last mind. I came to the conclusion that if it was true, then at least they were making a go of it and, if they were, they were a few and the rest still needed money, I don’t think the story was true. Wicked, wicked story. But, sadly a lot of people are wicked in this world. And if there is a god, he will be more than occupied with the wicked of the world to worry about a sweet woman, (the one who gave me the £1.50)! God will just look at her, smile and then nod her through. Surely if there was a god, that’s what he would do? I’m glad you nod in approval. He’d just have to do that wouldn’t he?

I know about wickedness. I know about evil. I mean real evil. Evil far too evil for even the Devil to contemplate. I’ve seen the evil of man. He’s a beast you fear dealing with. The devil holds no fear to me. I face him everyday of my life. I’ve seen his stare; I’ve seen the hatred and anger in his eyes, I’ve seen worlds slaughtered in those eyes. The Devil is a walk in the park compared to that. Oh well. You have to watch me when I go off like that. I’m very sorry for my rant. It comes every now-and-again. Anyway, back to the task at hand…….

Another quid, and a fag. Top of the morning to you kind sir. Cheers sir. Makes your day sometimes.

First fag of the day, the best one. Excuse my coughing. Hit the back of the lungs. Cold air, warm smoke, always going to make you cough. Pack in? May be one day. I mean. Some days I may only have two or three. That can’t be that bad for your lungs! Surely? Anyway. I enjoy a smoke. You wouldn’t take away one of my few pleasures in life. Of course I know it’s an addiction. I’m not a fool! But because of that addiction, when it hits my bloodstream and rushes to my brain; that cool smooth nicotine, excites the neurons and I feel better. Surely that, to a certain degree, is a man’s pleasure. I mean. People who exercise a lot, get a mad rush from adrenalin and endorphins. Surely that is the same as any other hit? It’s a man’s pleasure, in any form that occurs? You may be right that one may prolong life and the other may shorten it, but as you say: There’s always the likelihood that you’ll die prematurely, whatever that means, regardless of your actions.

I mean it could all be fated before we were born. I see you disagree. Well, each to his own I say. So you don’t believe in fate? Not in the slightest, hey? Well, one couldn’t be more emphatic, could one?

Give me five, I need to do something. I’ll be back. I promise! Not as though you seem that bothered whether I do or don’t. You are bothered, but you’d find me anyhow. Oh well. Here is a man that’s confident in his abilities. Anyway, I’ll be back in a bit. Now don’t go anywhere!

See? I told you I wouldn’t be long. I saw Billy down by the bridge. I knew he’d have some brandy. What do you mean it’s a bit early in the day? If you’d had my sleep, you’d realise that day and night, especially in the winter, merge into each other. Anyway, it was only a quick snifty, just enough to give me a warming sensation. You seem a very judgmental kind of a guy, I’m wondering why I’ve allowed you into my company.

No need to apologise, I was only kidding. Of course I understand it’s who you are. We all have our little foibles. In your case it seems to be being judgmental and being void of a sense-of-humour. I know I shouldn’t laugh at your frailties, but you must appreciate it is only through a feeling of friendship that I mock you. Seriously though, you really do have to work on the humour thing; and if you don’t mind me saying, I’d try not to be so judgmental either. Not for me. No, no. I’m not offended by your brusque manner, but some people may be. I’m only telling you so that you don’t end up in a fight with some of the lads that we’ll probably walk into today. They’re not all as well educated as I am. I don’t mean academically. I left school with no real exam results. I mean, as in I was in the army for many years and in there you learn to not be offended. Sergeant Majors soon get you out of that, I can tell you. If you were easily upset, they’d attack you like rabid dogs. They’d rip you apart. You learned to take it and smile to yourself. One sign of you getting riled and you’d be down on the floor giving it hundred.

You understand where I’m coming from. See? I knew you were from the military. No? Oh, but you’ve been around many of them. I’d have sworn that from your gait – the way you walk, that you’d seen some service. You’ve seen men in service? Yes, you already said that. Oh, I see. You mean you’ve been around the combat zone. Got ya! You’re a reporter then? No! Oh I give up.

Excuse me a minute, I’ve just seen a possible human. Of course they’re all human, but some people have humanity in them. Some people are just more giving than others. I don’t just mean that financially. I’ll explain in a bit. I need to get some food and drink money together. No! Not booze drink. Tea drink, pop drink, water drink. I’m not an alcoholic you know. Yes I know I had some of Billies brandy. Okay cheap brandy, if you want to be all snobbish about it. How you could see what brand it was from here I’m sure I don’t know. It’s not like he’s going to drink it down the golf club with a nice Cuban cigar and wax lyrical with the other members. He’s a down-and-out, like me, and we find it a chore to keep up with all the fees for our clubs. We much prefer the rebellious out-door activities of slumming it with the dregs of society. Yes! Of course I was joking. Do you really think anyone would choose this lifestyle. Sometimes you come across as really dumb. From criticism to idiocy in one foul swoop.

Come on it’s time to roll on. We’ve been here long enough. The old bill are on the walk about too. Not always. Sometimes they move you on, sometimes they ignore you and sometimes they’re a complete inquisition. It depends on the copper, what day he’s had and whether he wants to get back to the station early. It could be that his break time is due, or that he just doesn’t like your face today. Oh no. The women are just as bad. He was in my head because there’s two he’s not more than a minute or so away from us. I’m walking. If you’re coming we’re going now!

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