I admire the principle of the Big Issue Foundation in getting homeless people back on their feet. I have slept in the open, under hedge rows, in old barns and some make shift tents, but I have never been homeless as such – poor yes but not homeless. My short story allows the reader to think about social issues, not necessarily homelessness.
The Big Issue.
Mary rushed into the doorway entrance and stopped, she turned and shook the water from her umbrella; it was just another rainy day.
‘Excuse me,’ she said to the man blocking the door.
He was a Big Issue Seller sheltering from the weather. He grinned as he stood in her way. He seemed nice enough so she bought a copy from him, only then he moved aside to let her squeeze past into Harvey’s Café. Since her husband, Bill, was no longer around this visit was one of her regular treats, to have some warm broth before she went on to the Co-op for her shopping.
She had accepted that Bill had passed away, but occasionally she could still hear him in the kitchen making tea or washing up. She would slowly creep in and, as always, it was only the rain and wind rattling against the window. Often she would stand by the sink staring out into the garden. She would let her thoughts linger and imagine him in the garden pulling weeds from among the kale and turnips.
In the Café, she lifted her soup plate off the tray on to the table then realised she’d forgotten the bread roll, a napkin and a spoon.
‘Oh dear,’ she sighed and took off her glasses. She pushed back her grey hair that had come loose and pinned it back with a Kirby grip.
When Bill was around he would prompt her not to forget this and that, and he would also know where she had left things. ‘Aye’, she chuckled. She often forgot where she put her glasses. Same place as always he would tell her, on the table in the garden where she had been reading, and it was Bill who remembered where she had hid the spare cash for Christmas presents.
She smiled on the way to the counter where she fetched a bread roll and a spoon. Poor Bill.
Back at the table the Big Issue Seller had sat down. What! The cheek of the man, he was supping at the soup, and not so nice now. She hadn’t noticed him sneak in behind her, and although he maybe hungry had she not already given him some money to help out? Clearly that wasn’t enough, oh no, here he was eating the soup. She dragged a chair out from the table and sat down. She stared at him. He looked back at her, there was not a word of apology, and he just smiled. She didn’t want to make a fuss, but still he was taking advantage. Was he typical of the type she had read about in the daily papers? He was probably one of those asylum seekers or an immigrant after a free hand out.
She tore her bread in half and dipped it, soaking up some soup. So there, she stared at him, two can play this game. The man reacted by giving the plate a slight push towards her and carried on supping. So he wants to share, now that is very kind of him sharing her soup. She lifted her spoon and started eating but at the same time kept her eyes on him. He stared back not saying a word. Probably because he doesn’t speak any English or maybe he’s embarrassed, as he should be, imagine taking advantage of an elderly lady.
The carrot soup was hot with spicy coriander, and she began to enjoy this communal spoon for spoon race to finish the dish. She took the last of her bread roll and in one defiant swipe mopped the plate clean. She gave him a smug glare. He smiled, then went to the counter and brought her a coffee. He also passed her half of his sugary doughnut.
Still he had not spoken and it seemed in their silence that she felt an affinity with his predicament. He had a clean face and appeared pleasant, perhaps he was trying hard to get on his feet by selling the Big Issue, and perhaps he has a family back in his own country that misses him.
He got up from the table, put on his coat and gestured to her with a farewell nod as he left the café.
Mary finished her coffee, she smiled, although they had not spoken, she enjoyed the silent company of the Big Issue seller, who seemed kind. What would Bill have thought about her drinking coffee with a stranger? Of course it would never have happened if he were around.
Where were her glasses? She was sure she had put them on the table and her handbag on the other seat. They were gone along with her umbrella.
‘Oh dear,’ she gasped. How could she be such a simpleton in trusting a stranger and a foreigner? The newspapers were right about these people, who come over here to steal and take advantage of our country’s welfare. He’s probably thrown her empty purse onto the railway track and at this very minute heading to her house with her keys before she can do anything. If only Bill was still around, her eyes began to well up.
She clenched her fists, tensed her whole body and the soup in her stomach seemed to turn sour. When she stood up her chair fell over backwards. She couldn’t possibly go running down the street screaming stop thief, instead she would get the girl behind the counter to call the police.
She glanced around the café as tears flowed down her face and she stamped her foot.
‘Oh dear,’ she cried, ‘how could I be so stupid?’
Across the café, at an empty table, she saw her umbrella leaning against a chair with her handbag, and her glasses lay next to her plate of broth, which had now, gone cold.