Making someone’s life a bit better
I honestly don’t know what is going to come out of this text. I will try to tell you the story the best way I can. I was standing by the traffic lights waiting for a chance to cross. The earphones are in and Spotify is playing something from one of the many playlists I listen to. I was minding my own business, waiting, the lights are still red; usually I would have just crossed the road, but for some reason I can’t do it anymore, not at that traffic light. I was waiting there, waiting for the lights to turn green. The music was playing, and I could hear someone talk. I looked around and this woman was walking towards me, she was saying something; I removed the earphones to listen to what she was saying.
I think the COVID-19 has become a natural part of ourselves. For better or for worse it has affected us in more ways than we would probably have wanted. The woman stopped roughly about 2 meters way from me. I looked at her, but I was not really looking at her. I am awkward like that. She asked me if I had change, I said no. Honestly, I can’t remember last time I had change on me. She showed me the coins she had in one of her hands and asked me if I had a note or notes and, again, I said no. Initially I thought she just wanted to trade her coins for a note or something like that. It is common in the UK to pay for everything and virtually everywhere with our cards: it is normal for people to not walk around with money. Usually this is how the story ends for a lot of people, you say no, and they move on. The penny did not drop straight away.
For the people who live or have lived in the UK, they/we know that homelessness is, as the government and a lot people put it, a big problem. There are just too many homeless people. Bedford town centre, the Embankment and St. Paul’s Square are probably the worst places in Bedford. There was a point around this time last year when I would see homeless people almost everywhere. There were too many, and it was sad to see them, and it was a lot worse when you talked to them… because when you talk to them, you know what they need, what they are going through. You learn their stories. You take a piece of them with you. You learn about the stories that remain a secret to the majority of the population, the stories remain a secret not because they are not meant to be heard, but because people just do not want to hear them. We just ignore the people, ignore the homeless and their existence.
We pretend that they do not have lives, lives not so much different from our own. We stop seeing the once lawyers in their past lives, the widows, the mothers or fathers, the disabled, the people with mental health problems who struggled to cope with depression, loneliness and/or other circumstances in their lives that were just too much more them to bear. Some of us even blame them for their misfortunes. Some of us pretend not to see the living sculptures hiding under the sleeping bags: they are so cold, so alone that they cover themselves from head to toe. They try not to move. They try not to let the cold air in.
Some mornings you can see the sleeping bags outside the buildings, by the doors. They sleep by the doors because doors offer the closest thing to shelter. Despite the efforts from some local businesses to prevent this by barring the doors with gates or using any of the other anti-homeless measures, there are still many places for the homeless to find shelter from the wind and/or rain.
It is easier not to see another human being when we do not have a face to look at. The homeless situation “improved” after March. All of the sudden there were no homeless people around or any other kind of people for that matter. It was as if the COVID-19 had cleansed the streets of Bedford. I have many stories to tell, Bedford has many stories to tell, but today I am only telling you one. I am going to tell you the story of a woman who all she wanted to do was to have a shower.
After the woman left, I stopped. I don’t really remember why I stopped or what was going through my mind at that time. I remember standing there for a moment. I turned around and tried to call her, trying to get her attention. It is not like she told me her name. I said hey, but she probably didn’t think it was for her, so I said sorry twice and she turned around. I can’t imagine what must have crossed her mind when she saw me walk up to her.
The woman did not look rough, but she did not look healthy either. You could see it in her face. I was standing about a meter way from her. I had the mask on, and for those who wear a mask, you probably know that they can muffle the sound of our voices. The roads were busy and loud with traffic noise. I asked her what she needed the money for, and she told me that she was trying to get enough money to find a place to stay, a place where she could have a shower. She told me her legs hurt from sleeping on the floor. She told me she sleeps in a tent by the river. She told me that she asks people for help, but they just say no. “How am I going to get enough money to pay for a room to spend the night, to take a shower?” She asked. She showed me all the money she had, she opened her, revealing about £5 in coins. I asked her how much money she needed.
It was impossible for me not to feel bad; it was impossible not to want to help the woman. There is a strange likeness between loneliness and homelessness — Both the lonely and the homeless look for support, for a chance to be understood and for companionship in others, and both are often met with indifference and disdain. It is as if people just don’t want to be reminded of other people’s needs or misfortunes. We can be that indifferent and cold.
She told me that her knees hurt from sleeping on the cold floor and I told her that I was sorry. “It is not your fault.” She told me, and she was right. I told her that what she is going through is not nice, and I can’t help but feel bad. I recognised the look on her face, I recognised the tone of voice in her words. She spoke different words from the ones I normally speak, but I understood what she was telling me, I understood what she is going through.
She told me that they offer food, I assumed she was referring to the place she was trying to stay at, she told me that all she wanted was to take a shower, “it sounds silly” she said, but I understood what she was trying to tell me. She said that it was just a shower yet meant a lot to her. All she wanted was a bit of normality, a chance to have a hot meal, and chance to look like the person she wants to be again, only stronger. She wants, after all, for her body to stop hurting.
We walked to the ATM and she stood next to it, and she looked at the screen. Again, I don’t know what was going through her mind, but she was looking at the screen. And some of you will probably call me names at this stage and say that I was a fool for doing what I did. I am about to click confirm when she asked me if I was sure about it. I said, yes.
After I gave her the money, she was so happy, she looked so happy. You could see it in her eyes. She said “I will be able to have a shower tonight. I know it sounds so silly, but it is all I want.” It was all she wanted, a chance to take a shower. “Merry Christmas, my dear.” She said. I think if it had been the other way around, I would have, probably, said the same thing. It is after all that time of year. It is like I said, it was impossible for me not to feel bad. Is it so wrong to want to help other people feel better, to allow them to to have a better day or in this case, night?
We all want something, we are all looking for something, and this woman, all she wanted was a chance to have a shower, to feel some comfort. I am sure, that each of us, at some point in our lives have looked for comfort too; some of us have found comfort; some of us are still looking for comfort, and some of us will spend our lives searching for comfort. Tell me, is it wrong to want to help other people feel less vulnerable, lees invisible?