One day at a time


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1st December

Hi, my name is Matt and I’m 15 years old, I have shoulder length brown hair, hazel eyes, I am about 5′ 6″ in height and I have what I would call a skinny build. What follows is pretty much how my life is at the moment; I hope it never becomes your life. 1st December Something woke me up, what could it be? I started to panic, but as quick as the feeling had risen, it subsided. I took a quick look around, not that I could see much in the dense pea soup fog that London is famous for. I scanned the area; there was nobody near me who should not be, what then had woken me? I listened to see if I could detect it again and then I heard it again in the distance but coming closer, it was the sound of sirens, no not sirens but something even worse, and much closer than I had realised, the sound was the warning klaxon of a street cleaner getting closer. Was it that time already, I felt like I had only fallen asleep a few minutes ago. I could hear the rumble of the street cleaner getting closer, I could still not see it yet through the curling fog that had come up from the Thames close by, and I knew I had only a couple of minutes to get my meagre possessions together before they were washed away in a torrent of freezing water from the cleaner. I shook my neighbour Roxi awake, she grunted at me ‘Go away, leave me ‘lone’ ‘Roxi it’s me, Matt’ I said, ‘They are coming we have to go’, these words jerked her awake like nothing else could, we had been caught by the cleaner before. It always came between 3:15 and 3:30am, the time when the night was at its coldest and believe me when I tell you that this winter was one of the coldest in history.

The operators had been told that as per normal procedure they were to wake everyone and get them moved before they started cleaning the pavement but they enjoyed the reactions of the poor bums they managed to ‘accidentally’ drench way too much to wake them. The one time it had caught Roxi and me, we had to stay in our soaking wet clothes for hours until the shelter near Victoria Station in Westminster had opened. It had made Roxi ill, getting drenched with cold water at the beginning of winter in England when you have to stay outside is not fun. Once we were in the shelter we were able to get a warm shower and clean clothes as well as some warm food inside us, well as long as we had some money to pay for it all, we had to make sure we had a ‘silver coin’ in our pocket at all times so we could not be arrested for vagrancy. ‘We have to move Roxi, come on; we don’t want you getting sick again’. Roxi and I gathered together our scant possessions whilst calling to the others to try to stir them into action. Once they had gathered what they considered essential they started moving, they knew the clean-up crew would start spraying as soon as they arrived. We had not gone 300 yards when I heard the clunk of the hose switch being turned on followed closely by the screams of pain that the people who had not managed to move out of the area fast enough and the maniacal laughter of the machinery operators. ‘We should go a bit further down the road and get another couple of hours kip until the shelter opens’ Roxi said to me, Roxi was like a mum to me, she looked like she was in her late 30’s to early 40’s about 5’ 4” with dark shoulder length hair and brown eyes. She was in fact in her late 20’s but life on the streets of London had not been kind to her nor had her heroin addiction that she had had before finding herself on the streets. ‘Sure’ I replied though I felt too awake now to be able to get back to sleep.

We acquired some cardboard from outside the back of a local restaurant as we passed it and set ourselves up against a pillar under a bridge, cardboard on the floor, we snuggled close for the body warmth and spread the wafer thin blankets we had over the top of us. Roxi was asleep in minutes; I lay there listening to the city starting to come to life. I finally started drifting off to sleep thinking about how a month ago I had had a proper bed in a real house with modern heating, so much can change in thirty days. I awoke crying out and started to gasp for breath, not for the first time either, the nightmares were getting more frequent, I am not 100% sure what it is in the nightmare that scares me so much as they fade so quickly once I am awake, almost like my mind is trying to protect me from seeing something that I could not cope with in my current frame of mind. I looked around and guessed the time to be around 6am. I shook Roxi awake and told her I was going to McDonald's on the Strand as they did bottomless coffee until 8am, she said she would meet me at the mission later. I started the walk back along Victoria Embankment, then up Villiers Street to the corner where it meets The Strand, McDonald's is on this corner. It was 6:30am by the time I got to McDonald's so I opened the door and made my way to the till, I hope that the person on shift is not the guy who looks like a pepperoni pizza has attached itself to his face, he does not like us tramps in his food establishment. Luckily it was Mary behind the counter, I asked for coffee and she gave me coffee and a big breakfast, I started to protest that I did not have the money to pay for it but she said it was on her, I thank her and look around for somewhere to sit; I always try to sit somewhere that I can’t be seen from outside as I would not want to be the cause of Mary trying to explain why she had fewer orders when she was on the early shift. In the end, I went upstairs and sat in a booth eating my breakfast and drinking my coffee until it ran out at 8am.

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