I met ‘Daniel’, a homeless man; a wanderer, an outcast, a man lacking an abode, a L.O.S.E.R., one cold December morning on a busy North London high street. Cars, drunk with power, barged their way across the road. Drivers flicked off pedestrians and snorted coke from dashboards. For some the
Daniel’s rags wafted a dead-dog smell toward me like machine gun fire. We met,
him with a smile full of brown teeth and purple gums, I immediately began prejudging him; I asked Daniel to show me a typical day in his life; no holes barred. I wanted to see the naked truth, the urine, the defecation, the blood and the inevitable happy ending.
When Daniel led me to a nearby Starbucks I grabbed him by the head and yanked him back onto the pavement. I stared at Daniel and shook my head, but after five minutes of arguing in the street he’d convinced me tramps were allowed into shops. Now I could observe the public's reaction to an Inside Starbucks men and women in Gucci shawls carrying new-born babies on their shoulders gurned at Daniel’s smell. They whispered praise for the death penalty and coughed obscenities. Daniel bought some chocolate money and dumped a handful of penny coins on the counter, a few scuttling over the edge. The Polish check-out girl silently mouthed a long, intense, ‘fuck you.’
We took a seat near the window looking out onto the street, oh-so quiet behind the bullet-proof glass.
“Why are you over there?” Daniel asked “Um, this is fine.” “But you’re four seats away.” “Okay, Daniel,” I moaned, collecting my grande latte. “You smell. There, I’ve said it.”
Daniel told me about his hardship over the past year; a period when the economy suffered a severe mental illness:
“This darned money crunch thing meant I had to stick to package meals and, at times, hard drugs. Look
around you Toby, we all have to struggle. Except for that guy over there, the one rubbing money on his crotch.”
In fact the man had spilled coffee onto his trousers, but homeless people see money everywhere. They're
Daniel admitted to me; “My love for coffee has suffered. I appreciate art Buzz, I love food, fine wine and champagne. I’ve found a number of two-for-one deals, and people are supportive of those they find on the street. Sometimes a beautiful couple will invite me for a meal at Pizza Express. On other occasions a lawyer might kick me in the kidneys rather than the head.”
I stood up sharply and jabbed a finger at Daniel’s nose; “Are you taking the piss out of me?”
“It’s all I’ve got Tobes.”
Daniel has always been homeless. He was born in a stolen car, the same vehicle he learned to drive soon after. Daniel then became a cabbie, one of the most despised professions in the world. He had to drive hookers to their dates and would regularly see pimps shoot up on his bonnet. All this before he was eighteen months old.
Eventually Daniel’s car was stolen and he learned how to walk and beg for money simultaneously. He made a good living, sitting on a newspaper in Leicester Square, crying and asking passers-by for Farley’s rusks. But the gravy train couldn’t last forever. Soon Daniel became middle-aged; a time when asking around for pureed food seems a bit creepy. Now he’s sitting in front of me drinking coffee. It still doesn’t seem right that he’s
As we left the coffee shop we heard a middle-aged woman, in high heels and breasts say: “Thank fuck that’s over!”
After our traumatic shared experience I took Daniel to Nando’s as a treat and we split it fifty-fifty. It was here he revealed the true cost of being wretchedly smelly and poor.
“I have never had sex with a woman,” Daniel said, “And yet I’m not a virgin, if you know what I mean.”
“I’ve never seen the sea. I’ve never seen The Wire. I’ve never felt the love of a dog that didn’t run away afterwards. I’ve never tasted ice cream. I’ve never slept a night without the threat of violence and an overwhelming fear someone will steal my papier-mâché fort.”
“Yeah, ‘course.” I said, reaching for one of Daniel’s chicken legs while he was too mired in self-pity to notice.
That night, as I walked Daniel to his cardboard box, moulded by rain and love into the shape of a red sports car, I realised that it isn’t just us normal people suffering from a mentally-retarded, paralysed from the waist down, amputated, clinical depression of a financial crisis. The fact is, homeless people have been whinging about crap like that for years.
As I departed Daniel began to grovel; “Can you spare some change, please mate?” I thought about it, rifled through my pockets casually, saying; “Um. I don’t have any. Sorry.” I felt no guilt. These are the times we’re living in.