I’ve been walking past you for longer than I care to remember. Never taken much notice. Too absorbed in my own, little life to bother even to raise my head to you. Yet, somehow, I’ve always known you’ve been there. Standing on the corner of a grubby street, probably wearing the only clothes you possess and holding the usual supply of magazines, you’ve spoken to me, asked me - but never begged - for my business. In turn, I have blanked you as coldly as the ice beneath our feet and continued on my way to another day in the life of me - office worker extraordinaire. Boredom waiting to pounce on me from behind the doors of a very ugly, custard-coloured building. But with the boredom comes warmth, laughter and security - something I daresay you know very little of. I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m thankful I’m not you.
But today is different. I’m walking out the doors of the Railway Station with my head bowed down as usual to the ground, perhaps the only way I can bring myself to pass you by. It is then I hear the harsh coughing - its sound louder than the traffic in the distance or the trains charging into the station below. It makes me look up. And I see you. Clad in a heavy, woollen jacket in the middle of summer, your hands struggling to hold the supply of Big Issues as well as trying to cover your mouth. A gaunt face. Eyes sunken. You look at me and try your luck again.
"How much is it?" I ask this time. I don’t have enough change on me, but you tell me that it doesn’t matter. You’re happy just to get something from me. I wonder if you are just happy that I haven’t ignored you today.
"I wish I could get rid of this cold - had it for 5 weeks now and it just won’t go" you tell me as we pass back and forward money and magazine. "I’m feeling really cold today and shivery."
I supply you with very little words that are of any use. "Oh, really. That’s a shame." Yet you smile back at me and something inside me sees you for the very first time. A slight creature, about 18 years of age, skinny, greasy shoulder-length hair. Probably once pretty - the rawness of life having chipped away at the beauty that was borne you.
Suddenly, I want to hold and protect you. I see you as a baby, vulnerable and needy. I want to scoop you up in my arms and take you away from the patheticness of your predicament and take you somewhere that will restore you to your former self. Give you back your life again, as is the right of any human being. But I suddenly realise that you have already rescued your own self from this predicament. Your pride is standing alongside you whenever a stranger approaches and buys one of your magazines. The stranger is unaware that he or she is helping to let you live again. Their contribution a large part of your very existence in this uncertain world.
I say goodbye and leave you, coughing and spluttering, while you tell me to have a "nice day". I can feel the rush of hot liquid surrounding my eyes as I walk away. I secretly pray that your life improves quickly, for I know mine has for having just met you.