“Oy! Watch where you’re going, won’t ya?!” Suddenly, there was this woman yelling at me to keep out of her way, rolling forward on the balls of her feet and standing over me, the bulk of her body blocking out the draining light of a late afternoon in August. She had a fag in her fingers and the smell was drifting unpleasantly up my nostrils, but you know, the burnt heat of it sort of woke me up. Dozing on my patch where I always sit, she had just walked up and almost past me, about to kick me and then thinking better of it. “Gerra life, ya lazy bag of shite…” she mumbled, suddenly aware of her mistake and that I was alert and not actually a dope-head. I pulled on Gazza’s chain and just waited. Maybe she hadn’t seen him tucked under the blanket at my side, or maybe she felt caught out, but she mumbled, hocked and spat just next to me, and then moved on, taking her shopping bag, her dripping fag and her bad attitude away with her.
I am getting used to it, but after more than twelve years on the streets, and being settled here where most people know me and respect my patch – I leave theirs well alone, too – angry outbursts from stupid people are getting a bit predictable, you know? Like, I have a brain in my head, I have good eyesight, and I know all the best places to get a warm bed or a meal for under a fiver. I can spot trouble at forty paces so I’m quite savvy enough. It’s a wonder to me, that people see me sitting peacefully here, just minding my own business, but they think I’m out of it, a fuck-head, witless, away with the fairies. I’m not, as it happens, and what happened to me could happen to any of youse, too.
I was the youngest of nine children. Me mum was always after me to tidy my side of the room, to brush my hair or my teeth, wash my face, make myself neat. Though her pestering annoyed me, something must have stayed, because I find myself becoming more house-proud as the years pass, which is daft. My house is currently a static caravan looking out onto a field in Midlothian. I’m renting it, courtesy of a friend of my da’s who has two of them, and lets me have that one for me and my dog. It looks out onto a big field at the back. And I have my pitch here, just next to the bank and down from the High Street. It is a good place to sit, though I would not call it comfortable being on my arse for hours at a time. I’m thin under my padded jacket, I know, and I don’t much like it when well fed people point that out to me, either. It’s not as if I don’t know about food, after all.
People sometimes don’t see me, like when it’s crowded, like just at this time of year when the streets are mobbed and nobody’s looking where they’re goin’. They really don’t notice me down here and I get kicked in the shins. My dog, he gets stepped on, which isnae fair on him. People throw things too, bottles, cartons of half-finished food, they just throw them down and expect the Council to collect them up and take them away. Or they leave half-finished bottles of alcohol on the sill next to my head and the smell sends me back a few years.
I was a drinker, but it wasnae that did for me. Not really. Yes, I was mixing my drinks, drinking at work, but it was the coke that finally got tae me. One mistake. Really, that’s all it was, because with some drugs, ye just cannae dae it the once and expect tae leave it. It comes efter ye like a cloud of promises that make your mouth dry and your body sweat and your eyes see things that areney there. That’s the worst, the not feeling right and not knowing how long it will tak tae feel solid again.