Waiting for the 35. 3pm.
A homeless man approached a group of people standing outside my local newsagent. Everyone turned their backs and eventually he shuffled away.
A young woman was standing near me with a pram. Inside, a tiny baby was having a fitful sleep. The woman said, to no-one in particular, ‘He stinks.’ A few of us looked up at her curiously. She continued, ‘He really stinks, I don’t want nothing to do with him.’
An older man in spectacles and a recently pressed suit began speaking in sober tones about how there are many reasons why people end up in the streets with issues like alcoholism, but that in his view handing over change wasn’t the answer. He worked in the criminal justice system and believed that the law and social services needed to be the ones to help people on the margins. Otherwise individual resentments could build up. The man shifted his weight from side to side as he spoke.
The woman cut in, ‘To be honest I don’t give a shit. They can take the drugs and drink all they like, just don’t talk to me about it.’
The man murmured something about personal circumstances.
I chipped in, ‘The state could do more to help.’
The man began to protest mildly (which I guess makes sense, given his profession) but his whispery words were blown away by the woman. Her voice was loud and her body was tense, like an overheating metal container on the point of exploding. ‘The state is full of shit. The other day a woman attacked me in Brixton and I fucked her up and now I’ve been charged. It’s ridiculous. Just because I came off better than her. The police are full of shit. They said they had to charge us both – what’s that about? I’m taking them to court…’
The man, visibly relieved that the law was getting a mention in this disturbing story, nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, you are going through the correct channels…’
‘…And I tell you what, that policeman’s gonna get it too. Once they know who they’re dealing with then they’ll know the time of day.’ With this the woman yanked the pram away and stalked off.
Her baby, still sleeping, was making little fists in the air.