A street person's struggle to get his life back on track
I wake at seven am sharp, as always. Not because of a screaming alarm clock, I have no use for that. Nor is it due to a noisy neighbour, for mine is the only occupied room in this two storey mockery of an apartment building.
No it is because of the stray cat, who I have christened Phakov. So named because that’s what I yell when he invariably claws the bottom of my right foot at seven every… single… morning. I’ve tried burying it beneath lumpy couch cushions but he just digs his way in to find pay dirt. This time I had wrapped my feet in a rotten sweater I had found discarded in the back alley. No matter, his claws still found purchase in the wrinkled tenderness of my right foot.
“Fack off!” I yell dutifully (lucky for him I’ve always preferred the British slant on that one). It’s important that I play my part in this morning routine. I worry that if I break character Phakov might resort to more sensitive territory to get me off the couch. Some mornings I wonder what he wants from me. Usually I don’t.
I tumble to the floor as he eyes me benignly. The carpet smells a little less like rotting eggs than it did yesterday. I can see out into the hallway thanks to the door finally rotting off the frame last month. Not the most secure place on earth but it keeps the rain and some of the cold off. In the six months I’ve been sleeping here I’ve only been bothered once, by a few drunken frats boys that stumbled across my ‘home’. They roughed me up a bit but nothing too serious. That tooth had been loose anyway.
What a sorry mess this is. Pops would be so proud that I followed so closely in his footsteps. The only things I’ve missed out on so far are fathering a bastard (at least I think I haven’t done that) and developing that stupid disease of his. Then I could die of ‘diabetic complications’, as the doc would say, and I could call it a life.
“If I don’t have anything to eat for myself,” I politely ask the cat, “what makes you think I’ve got anything for you?” All part of the script of course. Now he will saunter off to the corner, sniff around a bit and then pee on my Yankees t-shirt. That used to piss me off, but then I remembered I never really liked the Yanks anyway.
Having taken care of his morning obligations, Phakov gives me one final stare then disappears until tomorrow to do it all again. Some days I wonder what he does between visits. Mostly I don’t.
Oh what a marvelous life we have together. I’m not sure what I’d do without him.
Alone again, I beat back gravity long enough to get to my feet in order to get on with the business of the day. In my line of work being on time is everything and being early is never a bad idea. It’s so easy to lose your spot and for me location, location, location are the three things that stand between going to sleep hungry and going to sleep starving.
As I head for where the door used to be I gather up the tools of my trade: my paper-thin blanket, for sitting on in the summer and for some distant cousin of warmth in the winter; my ghost-gray sneakers that barely remember having laces; and my trusty ball cap for donations to my cause. The logo is long gone now but I think there used to be a Bulls emblem on the front.
I tread lightly on the creaking stairs, part of me praying they’ll hold out for just a bit longer, part of me wondering who I’m praying to. I have no answer for that one, but I pray my way up and down that staircase every day.
The morning mist covers the broken glass and rotting trash in the courtyard; it almost brings beauty to this place. If only it hid the abandoned buildings and cars as well I might be fooled. Maybe I should put in some flowers, spruce the place up a bit. Nah, that would just bring the masses out here and I’ve got no interest in the overcrowding they’ve got downtown. I’ll take the relative peace and quiet of this dump any day.
I head for the bus stop, blanket over one shoulder and cap on my head, pulled down low. It’s time to try to convince the good people of this city that they can change the world with what’s jingling around in their pockets. It’s time to go to work.