It’s 8:30pm and you left work late. He says: ‘Is there a number?’ You stand. People pass. With pain, trembling he asks repeatedly. Pointing and repeating he asks if there’s a number… most ignore [it’s the best thing to do]. He continues asking indiscriminately. Clearly doesn’t distinguish those likely to help or ignore. You stand and keep watching quietly.
Messy, definitely smelly. Cool shoes, Clarks Desert Boots - as sung by Vybz Kartel. Funnily that’s a song asking ‘weh mi get mi Clarks’.
A shame you think, suede isn’t suited to London’s soggy rainy winter weather. Maybe that’s his only pair of shoes. Considering the situation, you think he’s stylishly dressed. Nice jacket, you wonder where it’s from.
You keep watching.
You don’t want a homeless man to fall on you. Best keep your distance. He’s only asking for a number.
A young woman sits. She looks down at her phone. Eyes fixed, thumbs furious. Hasn’t she realised what’s next to her? He’s going to ask. Of course he asks, he points down and asks: ‘Is there a number?’ She smiles, did she shake her head? Why isn’t she moving away, makes you feel tense. She should move away, why isn’t she intimidated by his trembling and annoying question.
Maybe she can’t smell.
She probably finds people like him familiar. This is London after all.
The next second could be disastrous. Screaming, panicking, yelling and fighting, or, nothing special, just him asking more. You feel anxious - had enough of this guy now. He sits and curls and mumbles. Distressed. His troubles are worse than yours.
It’s not cold - horrible day with the rain but it’s not cold. You judge: what’s around him gives no reason to act like this. You think he’s given up asking the same question. He’s not well: drugs, streets, hunger. You think about how unfortunate some people are. You continue to stand and watch.
You’re waiting. Your friend will arrive soon. This theatre could turn into something to remember. If there was a number how would he call? You predict: ‘Can I use your phone?’ And put your phone away. Your unlimited minutes aren’t for him.
You twist your neck and lower your head. Your eyes focus. It’s grey. Like a cheap plastic watch worn on an ankle.
You realise and wonder if the police will track him with that thing.