“Hey! Wake up, you can’t sleep here.”
“Come on, up!”
“Okay, okay, give us a sec’,” he said, wiping sleep from his eye.
“I’ve told you before you can’t sleep here. If I catch you again I’ll arrest you. Understand?”
He pulled himself up into a sitting position and nodded. He glanced up quickly at the uniformed police officer and looked away quickly, unwilling to make eye-contact. It was not just the uniform, he rarely made eye-contact with anyone anymore.
“This is a public park not a doss house, how do you think it looks to a young mother with little kiddies coming for a play in the park, only to find you sprawled all over a bench?”
“Sorry,” he mumbled an apology.
“Look at the state of you, I could smell your stink before I saw you.”
“Five minutes… if you’re still here when I get back I’ll have your sorry arse before a judge.”
He nodded once, but the policeman had already turned on his heel and moved on. His head throbbed, his throat was parched, his stomach felt queasy. It was a warm summers day and yet, despite wearing a heavy winter coat, he shivered from the cold. He brought a hand up to his temple, it came away sticky with blood. How had that happened? he wondered. A fuzzy image came to mind of being heckled and pushed around by a gang of faceless youths, dressed in hoodies and tracksuits.
His arms, legs and back ached, a cramp knotted in his stomach and lower abdomen, he wasn’t sure if he needed to eat or shit, or both. He reached for the bottle beside him, cooking sherry, he held it by the neck and tipped it back, he wretched and then drank some more, draining the bottle.
“Eww! Mummy, that man is so smelly.”
He no longer flinched with shame when young mothers pulled their children out of his way. It hurt at first, cutting him to his very core, especially the little ones, the fear and disgust in their eyes. Blocking out the memories was the first thing he had to do, the booze helped with that.
“Keep walking, you’re scaring the kiddies.” The policeman was back. He nodded and shuffled on his way, keeping his eyes low. He wondered where he would sleep tonight, best not come back for a day or two.
He walked on, leaving the calm and peace of the park behind. All around him the sounds and smells of the city assaulted his senses, buses and trucks belched out noxious fumes, people hurried past all giving him a wide berth. A car screeched to a halt, the driver shouting and gesticulating at him, before he realised he was in the middle of the road. He shuffled on, not answering, not looking back.
“Oi, you, fuck off!”
He looked up from the skip, a man dressed in a chef’s aprons had come out of a doorway into the alleyway and was shouting at him, he dropped the leftover food back into the bin and moved on.
He rummaged through the on-street bins for whatever he could find, scavenging whatever food he could get his hands on or anything he could use. A piece of cardboard he dragged from one bin would make sleeping on the cold streets a bit more bearable.
He felt dizzy and disorientated most of the time now, his body ached for food and sleep, his mind craved drink. Drink to take him away, drink to help him find the oblivion he constantly sought.
“Malone?” He looked up from the bin. “Jesus, Malone, is that you?” A man dressed in suit and tie addressed him.
Malone? That was his name once. Not anymore. He shrugged off the man and shuffled on. The man followed.
“It is you, Malone. What the hell happened to you?”
He pushed him away and tried to move on, but the well dressed man was persistent.
“This used to be my boss,” he laughed, turning to his friends.
“Come on, Freddie, leave him alone, he stinks,” a woman’s voice said.
“Seriously, this was my manager at the bank. He got fired when he came into work drunk one day and told all the customers to go fuck themselves. Apparently his wife had taken the kids and buggered off with another man.”
“Please, Freddie, I want to go.” He could hear the fear in her voice.
“Jesus, Malone. Here,” the man said and shoved a tenner into his hand.
He looked up when the couple walked away, tears blurred his vision. He looked down at the ten pound note, he wanted to run after them and tell them to keep their bloody money, tell them he didn’t need it, or them and tell them to go fuck themselves. He scrunched the note up tightly in his fist, his knuckles turned white. A sob escaped from his throat, a harsh guttural noise, a mournful wail of despair.
He wiped away the tears and snot and unfolded the note, calculating how much booze he could get with it.
He wanted to forget.