Ubuntu; the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness toward others.
It was a way of life for all who followed that path; helping those who could no longer help themselves.
Ubuntu; the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness toward others.
It was a way of life for all who followed that path; helping those who could no longer help themselves.
Laying in bed, the bedside lamp on to keep the dark at bay, my thoughts kept going back to that girl. She had either run away from home or just didn’t have a home to go back to. I tried to imagine living like her; no family or college, no money or food, no bed or clean clothes. It would be hard. Tossing about, I finally settled down but my mind still wouldn’t turn off.
Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll get somethings together and take them to her. Maybe she’ll talk to me then and perhaps I can help. Or maybe, the other side of my mind thought, I should just let it go. It’s none of my business. But by seeing and talking to her I had made it my business.
In the morning after a shower and breakfast, I should have sat down to work on one of my essays. I didn’t have classes today and tomorrow was Saturday, so I should have been thinking about going back to the library. Instead, that homeless girl was still in my mind, so I set about finding things she could have.
My parents had died when I was ten, so my grandparents had took me in. They were currently away on holiday, visiting their other daughter and grandchildren in America. There was still a lot of my parents’ things in the attic but I didn’t have time to look through all that. What if the girl had left the mill because I’d scared her? I needed to get there as soon as possible. Luckily, close to the front door was a bag of clothes my gran was putting out for charity collection.
There were a few of my tops that were too small now, but might fit her. I also selected an old green jumper and two pairs of my grandpa’s trousers. There was my old winter coat in the closet, a bobble hat and matching gloves. Taking everything back upstairs, I put the clothes in a rucksack then brought that down. In the kitchen, I took some tins of beans and soup that had ring pulls. Some cans of fizzy drink, bottles of water, a packet of biscuits that no one of liked and a bag of dried fruit.
With those in the bag, I wondered what else would a homeless girl need. Perhaps; sanitary towels, painkillers, matches, candles and a few other bits of pieces. the rucksack was heavy but it would be worth it. I got ready to go, saw it was raining and decided on my wellington boots and an umbrella. Was there a spare one to take her? My grandpa liked to collect useful things, so at the back of the closet were a few spare umbrellas. I chose a small pink one then set off.
The day was dull and it must have been raining to awhile because there were large puddles and everything was dripping wet. I walked slowly, weighted down with the rucksack. Some of the streetlamps were still on but they didn’t seem to be doing a good job. I hoped it wouldn’t get any darker. Following the country lanes around and to the bridge I didn’t see anybody or cars.
Going over the river, I picked up my pace and hurried through the rows of houses to the mill. I squeezed the gap in the fence and made my way over. In the gloom and rain, the paper mill looked darker and more dirtier. I could hear the rain falling into holes in the roof and dripping off metal.
In through the door and I had to get my phone’s torch out to see. There was no keeping quiet with my wellingtons and heavy rucksack on the debris covered floor. I thought I went to the room she had been in, but I must have taken a wrong turn because I ended up at a metal staircase. At the top of which was a void of darkness. Shivering, I turned away and weaved my way back again. All the rooms looked the same but at last I found the right one.
‘Hello?’ I called, ‘It’s me Darcy.’
The fire wasn’t lit but there was enough dim light from the tall windows to see that she was still there. She was sat on the floor, huddled in dirty blankets with a sleeping bag wrapped around her. She turned and realised it was me.
‘I thought maybe….I could bring you somethings,’ I spoke, not sure what really to say.
She turned away from me without saying anything.
I walked over and placed the bag down.
‘It’s not much just some food and clothes,’ I added.
There was a large piece of cardboard next to my feet, so I sat down. I opened the bag and took anything out. She kept her head turned away from me as if I wasn’t there. Whatever I had been thinking might happen, it hadn’t been like this. But why would a teenage girl suddenly gush out her life story to a stranger she’d never meet over some old clothes and food? Had I really thought we’re going to become best friends?
I waited a few minutes, listening to the rain falling and feeling the cold stiffen my limbs. She was quiet, ignoring me and because she was keeping away from me, I couldn’t make out her face. I wanted to catch her eye so at least I could try and say something else, but she didn’t move.
‘Fine,’ I sighed, ‘I’ll go.’
I picked up the rucksack and slowly walked away. Every now and then I glanced over my shoulder, but the girl hadn’t moved. At the doorway, I stopped and thought about saying something else to her, reminding her of her manners maybe? Get angry and yelling out my disgust at her? Perhaps hoping her the best?
The words, whatever they were, wouldn’t come out so I turned away and walked back through. Even though my mind was still on her, I couldn’t help but think about what the paper mill would have been like in the past. It would have been loud with machines cutting up the trees and making the paper. The air would have been heavy with wood dust and chemicals. People would have been everywhere too.
I made it out in one go, only to find the rain had got heavier and the wind had picked up. I opened my umbrella and hurried home, my heart and thoughts weighed down.
To Be Continued…
The worse thing about autumn was it got dark far too soon and I’d always been scared of the dark. I hadn’t meant for it to be so late when I left the college library but I’d been doing research for my last two essays of the year. I hadn’t notice the time until I’d left and gone to the bus stop. I’d missed the last bus home.
So either, I walked the half an hour into town and got another bus or I walked the forty minutes home. If it had been raining which made it darker, I might have gotten the bus but I decided that I could make walking home. Most of the way would be well lit by street lamps and I had gone this way lots of times in the last year.
Drawing up all my bravery, I set off at a hurried pace. My heavy rucksack almost dragging me back whilst making my shoulders ache, distracted me as I went. My college was on a limbo boarder of just being outside a village and on the edge of countryside. The fastest way home was to half walk through the village then go up some country lanes.
I was about halfway home and just about to walk over a small bridge. Behind me an abandoned 1800’s paper mill ruled over the little houses that had once been home to it’s workers. The village had sprung up around the mill but once they had cleared all the trees, it started to get expensive importing more, sales had dropped too and the mill had closed it’s doors.
I stopped and faced off with the darkness before me. A single street lamp on the bridge was the only barrier between us. Beyond that the quiet countryside seemed to stretch endlessly away. I could hear the faint flow of the low river going under the bridge and something else in the distance behind me.
I listened harder, half turning to the sound which was like a muffled crying. I looked back at a row of houses, most had dim lights in the windows and others were draped in black. The paper mill looked eerie, like a silent empty watchman. I tried to tell myself the noise was just a cat or a baby but this feeling of strangeness grew in my stomach.
What if someone was hurt and only I could help them?
Glancing at the bridge, my mind made a choice that I didn’t get a chance to think about. I turned away and walked back towards the houses. I followed the sound along those small well lit pavements, thinking at any moment I’d find the source. Arriving at the gates of the mill and peering though the towering bars, I spotted the flicker of a fire in a ground floor window.
A voice in my head told me to go and my feet began to move away but the rest of me stayed at the gate. The crying was coming from the mill. Thoughts ran though my head; it’s a trick of the darkness, it’s an echo from something else, it’s a ghost, a homeless person, an animal. Why am I here? Go home!
I couldn’t though…
Looking further along the metal fence, I found a hole large enough to fit through and I stepped into the cobbled courtyard of the mill. Trying to walk in a hurried but quiet way didn’t work, so instead I give up trying to hide my presence and just went over to the steps. Looking up, I could make out how run down the mill was now but there was too much darkness to see further.
I went to the window the fire was coming from. I couldn’t see in though as the wall was too tall. My hands touched the cold damp stone and quickly withdrew as if something had bitten me. Coming away, I crept around for a bit, trying not to let the deep darkness creep me out more. Every shadow was a good hiding place for someone and I was just waiting for something to happen. My throat got dry, my heartbeat was loud and fear was making me sweat despite the cold evening.
Taking out my phone and putting the torch app on, give me some more light and helped to keep the shadows at bay. I found a half open metal door and slipped into the building. There was a maze of rooms and a musty smell. Carefully walking, I spent a good few minutes figuring out where the fire was burning. Trying to convince myself it was just kids messing around and perhaps one had got left behind, helped make me feel better.
Standing in the doorway of the right room, I saw a small fire on the floor and next to it was a small humped over person shape.
‘Hello?’ I called out.
The shape moved, twisting around to look at me whilst gasping. I couldn’t make anything out as my phone light didn’t reach so far and there wasn’t enough light coming from the fire. I heard scrambling and the person getting up and moving.
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ I spoke in a shaky voice, ‘I think I heard you crying. Do you need help?’
‘No,’ the voice of a girl sounded back.
I sighed, glad the person wasn’t a man nor hurt. I waved in the door, wanting to move closer but then not moving as there might be danger.
‘What do you want?’ the girl demanded.
‘Nothing,’ I replied, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘This is my home!’
‘Your…?’ I trailed and looked at what I could see.
Then I stepped inside the room. It was bare but for the fire and small pile of stuff on the floor. I got closer to the fire, drawn by the heat and I saw a girl in her late teens, just like me. She was wearing layers of ripped clothes, her hair and face were dirty but she was standing defensively, ready to fight.
‘I’m Darcy,’ I spoke to break up the tension.
She shook her head at me.
‘How did you end up here? Where are your parents?’
‘None of your business. Go away,’ she snapped.
I frowned and thought about saying more. I had the urge to help her but what could I do? Turning away, I walked back to the doorway. Then with a glance at her went through and tried to remember the way out.
To Be Continued…
Normally, I wouldn’t have stopped but today I was feeling too happy, so when I spotted the homeless man sitting against the car park wall, my hand was already going to my pocket.
‘Got any change?’ he asked in crackling, horse voice.
‘Maybe. Sure,’ I added.
I removed my hand and opened my palm. The coins were digging against my fingers, so I moved them and looked closely what I had. Counting out a one pound in the sliver coins, I give them to his out stretched hand. His hand was filthy, his fingernails black with dirt and his skin dark with too sun and not enough washing.
‘Thank you,’ he replied.
I nodded and made to move off as he dropped the coins to the ground in front of him.
‘How old do you think you are?’ he asked suddenly.
I paused. His voice was calm and curious, not mocking or angry.
‘Well…I know how old I am….twenty-nine,’ I answered.
‘No, no, no! A woman should never tell a man her age!’ the homeless man gasped.
‘I don’t mind….’
He shook his head, ‘let me tell you how old you look….twenty-four!’
‘Well, thanks. I’m use to people telling me I’m younger,’ I explained and smiled.
‘Do you remember the sixties?’ he asked.
‘Erm…no….Sorry, but I…’
I started to shuffle away, regretting I’d stopped in the first place.
‘Let me tell you want happened!’ he shouted.
‘I have to be somewhere,’ I spoke.
‘My wife got pregnant,’ he cut in, ignoring me, ‘only I was shooting blanks, so I knew it couldn’t be mine.’
‘Shooting blanks, I was!’ he shouted and burst into laughter.
I felt the urge to get away growing. Something wasn’t right about this man and I was feeling uncomfy. My good karma was fading and I reminded myself this was why I didn’t give money to the homeless.
‘I knew it wasn’t mine,’ he ranted, ‘so, I looked and looked and found she was having an affair with her best friend’s husband! The baby was his. So, I left.’
He waved his hands around then leered at me. For the first time I fully took him in. He had black hair, streaked mostly grey that was long and shaggy. He had a short beard that was also grey and his face was wrinkled like a dried fruit, making him twenty years older then he seemed. His dark blue eyes looked worn and heavy, he’d seen too much bad stuff. He was wearing an ancient track suit that might have once been blue but was now holey and dark with age and dirt.
‘Okay. I’m sorry about that, but I really have to go now,’ I said gently.
He moved as if to reach my hand and I stepped back but he was merely shifting around.
‘You know what they named him?’ the homeless man asked.
I shook my head.
‘Hal. Do you know what it means? First seed,’ he snapped.
I pressed my lips together and eyed the exit door, it was only a few steps away and I could make that in a few seconds, especially, if I ran.
‘Hal! They did it to spite me! Are you religious? You don’t look it. But it’s in the Bible that.’
‘I am actually,’ I uttered.
The homeless man didn’t seem to care any more. From under his jacket, he pulled out a white rosary and danged it between his fingers.
I nodded to him.
He began to play with the beads, muttering to himself. Perhaps it was a prayer.
‘Well, bye,’ I said and walked away, what else could I have done?
It was the only place he could find to get out of the rain. Huddling into a corner, he made himself as warm and comfy as possible. He had already checked out the place and made sure no one else was in residence. The corner he had picked was also the best one. It was a large dry spot and he had clear views of the two doorways into the house.
He looked up and watched the rain falling in. The roof had long ago tumbled in, though the attic and floor above, creating a massive hole in the middle of the house. There were bits of roof tile, bricks, plaster and rubbish scattered around. He hadn’t seen any furniture and guessed the house had been well cleared out over the years.
He rested his head down and listened to the patter of the rain. Oddly he felt like an intruder. This had been someone’s home once. A place of love and safety. It had seemed nice too, a good place to bring up a family. Where had they gone though? What had made them move out?
Trying to dispel those thoughts- what did he care?- He settled for sleep. He began counting sheep jumping over a fence as was habit. He pictured each sheep differently as an individual as his father had taught him. Something about how that helps you fall asleep better.
With the lullaby of the rain, he fell asleep and dreamed of his childhood which he hadn’t thought about in years.
The streets were cold and wet. Not a place anybody would want to spend the night on. The homeless though had no other place to go.
T settled down in the doorway of what once had been a large Woolworths shop. Somehow, he had remembered that, despite the place being closed and boarded up years ago. Making sure to tuck his sleeping bag in to try and slow the cold from sipping underneath him, T lent back.
The pattering of the rain started to lull him to sleep, but a soft quacking awoke him. T opened his eyes and looked down at the large cardboard box by his feet. One of the two pet ducks inside the box was staring over the top at him with black beedy eyes.
‘There’s no more bread, Petal,’ T said gently.
The duck quacked and retreated back into the box.
T settled down again. He was just falling asleep when the sounds of police sirens cut through the quiet night. T awoke with a start. He looked around and saw a police car and van pulling up on the edge of the street. Uniform officers were getting out and coming towards him.
Sighing, T slowly began gathering his stuff.
‘Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be gone,’ T said as the first police person reached him.
‘It’s not about that,’ the man answered.
T paused and looked up. Rain was dripping off the policeman’s hat and shoulders of his jacket.
‘Do you have any ducks in there?’ the officer asked nodding to the box.
‘Yeah…’ T trailed as five more police people joined the first one.
‘I’m sorry, but we are going to have to remove them from you,’ the policeman said.
‘But why? I’ve done nothing wrong!’ T cried, ‘they were dumped and I’ve been looking after ’em. They is fancy birds, not wild ones. They’re my pets now.’
T reached defensively for the box and placed his head inside. He began stroking the ducks, who eagerly pushed against his hand.
‘There’s be concerns about their health. We have to take them,’ a female officer said.
‘I can look after ’em! I’ve been doing so for the last month,’ T declared, ‘you can’t take ’em there’re my friends.’
‘We have to. They don’t belong to you,’ a second policeman cut in, ‘just hand them over and won’t move you tonight.’
T shook his head, words failing him.
The female officer reached over and patted his arm. She guided T’s hand away from the ducks and before he could reach out again the first policeman had swooped in and picked up the box.
‘What will ya do with ’em?’ T shouted.
‘They will be fine. The RSPCA will look after them. Don’t worry. Why don’t I get you a cup of tea?’
‘Alright,’ T huffed as he watched the policeman hurrying away with his ducks.
The other officers began to disperses.
A sad hole sank into T’s chest that even the warmth of the tea couldn’t fix.
He noticed the mug in the frosted over window and decided to go in. The front and back doors were locked and boarded over with thick wood. However, a broken window allowed him access. He put his rucksack and sleeping bag through first. Then being careful not to snag any of his clothes, he squeezed in and found himself in a kitchen.
There was very little left. Just a few cupboards and the sink. He tried the light switch, but found the power to be off. Next he tried the sink taps. No water came out which meant there was none or it was frozen in the pipes.
Collecting his rucksack and sleeping bag, he decided to see the rest of the house. Every room was almost empty. There were a couple chairs knocking about, scraps of newspapers, a few books and empty cans. The walls were blank and the floors bare. The abandoned house felt colder then it did outside.
He went back to the kitchen after his wander. Putting his stuff down again, he decided it was better then nothing. He went to the window and looking out the dirty glass, he saw it was snowing. The flakes were melting just as fast as they were falling though. The wind seemed to be picking up though and the sky was already darkening.
Looking around the kitchen, he found a cupboard door that had come off and was resting on the floor. Picking it up, he used it to cover the broken window and that helped lessen the draft from outside a bit.
Then even though he didn’t really want to, he got his sleeping bag out and set it in the far corner of the kitchen. The window was further down, but still close if anyone else decided to come in. He got in the sleeping bag still wearing his shoes and coat. He lent against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
Looking at the mug on the other window sill above the sink, he wonder who had left it there. The last owner of the house? A builder? The new owner who’d stripped the place then maybe ran out of money to carry on? Perhaps, it had even been another person like him?
A homeless cast out. Forgotten by everyone, seemingly invisible in many places and surviving however they could. Until, God decided the struggling was over and called them back.
Trying to keep warm, he changed his mind into getting some sleep. Letting the wind howling be his lullaby, he dozed fitfully, never falling completely into the dream realm. It was a sad habit he had gotten into over the years. Too many times people had robbed what little he had or kicked him whilst he slept in doorways and upon street corners. Even though the abandon house should have been safe, he didn’t trust it.
The wind continued to howl outside, sending the snow flying thickly. Night came, a seemingly impenetrable darkness. The only sounds to be heard were the wind and the house creaking and moaning.
He listened to those noises as he lay awake. There was nothing unusual about them and he was too old to believe in ghosts. He settled onto the floor, using his rucksack as a lumpy pillow. He rested, trying not to fall asleep. However, days of walking and not eating had taken it’s toll. He fought actual sleep off for has long as he could, but give in without fully knowing.
When he next awoke, he was warm but still cold. Sitting up, he looked around then turned his face to the window. It was lighter out there now, but still looked like night time. He got out of his sleeping bag, regretting it, but knowing he had too. Going to the window, he looked out and saw it was daytime. The snow had stopped falling too and it was time he moved on again.
Listening to the hailstone outside, he gave thanks for the tent. Looking up, he made out the shadows of the ice balls cast by the street lamps from the bridge above. The hailstones were falling either side of the road bridge, safely away from him.
Wiggling further down in the sleeping bag and feeling warm drifts of air coming up, he settled down again. Shutting his eyes, he thought about his distant family and their refusal to help. The memory weighed heavily on his mind, like his parents’ deaths.
A car horn blared into the night followed by shouting voices. He awoke, heart hammering and fear spiking through his stomach. He listened, but couldn’t work out what the distant, disembodied voices were saying. Once they had faded and the background noises of the city fell into place again, he took some deep breaths and calmed himself.
It took him ages to fall back to sleep and what little he got was restless. The sound of heavy rain yank him awake as well as his bladder. Sighing, he got out of the warm sleeping bag, put on his shoes and unzipped the tent. A gusty wind sent goosebumps up his skin and caused him to shake. He got out on his hands and knees then stood up and looked around.
The early morning light seemed to have forgotten the space under the bridge. In the gloom, heaps of rubbish, an abandoned metal bin, boxes and black bags with thrown along the sides. There was a strong smell of decay and dampness. He got up and went to the wall, casting quick looks around. There was nothing but raising hills of thinly grassed soil at either side.
Above, the bridge shook as a trunk went passed. He did what he had to do then hurried back to his little camp. He got back inside the tent, tugging off his shoes and wrapping himself in an old blanket to bring the warmth back. He looked at the only things he now possessed and with a heavy heart saw that it was time to move on again.
The box was poor shelter against the heavy rainfall. I huddled under it and the pile of rag blankets in the doorway, trying to stay warm and dry. My thoughts dropped with the rain, how had I come to start the new year like this?
Heroines needed. Capes optional.
a weekly flash fiction prompt inspired by google maps
Taking On The World One Journey At A Time...
Thoughts and Perspectives From the Mind of a Common Girl