He was standing there. Nobody stopped.
Why would they? It was busy Borough High Street, 4.15pm, school rush. They had places to go, people to see; moving in such haste, eyes either directly ahead or facing the gleam of their smart phones, that they failed to stop and absorb their surroundings. There could have been a double rainbow in the very sky above them and few would’ve looked up to notice. No time to stop, let alone for a homeless guy.
He looked well. Clean and bright eyed wearing a flourescent yellow reflective vest over his navy hoody.
His dreads were tied and he was tall, his voice rang out clear and consistent asking every single bystander who hotstepped passed him. “Any change please?”
Now some may call me soft, naive blah blah, proceed to tell me about all the things he could be doing with my money. And they could very well be right, I’d be lying if I said the same thoughts hadn’t crossed my mind. But the way I see it is, I’d much rather give and know that there is a possibility that he used said money to buy food, as opposed to give nothing at all and know that he really could’ve been in need and went hungry that night. And if it were misused then hey ho. My intentions were pure, my heart was in the right place.
However on that particular day, I didn’t give anything, I genuinely didn’t have any change.
In a rush myself, I gently shook my head in his direction, maintaining my pace and said “Sorry, I don’t have any.”
He said thank you.
But it was the way he said thank you that slowed my tracks and made me face him full on. Loud. Determined. Passionate. Bold. It was a statement. A proclamation.
Having made eye contact with him, he said thank you again. Same sound. Same emotion.
I looked at him and smiled; only a slight smile, a little embarrassed that I had stopped yet still wasn’t able to offer him anything. I nodded respectfully, humbled. I hadn’t given him anything, and this man was here thanking me. For what?!
Because for the first time in what could’ve potentially been hours, I was the only one who noticed that he was there. On that busy high street teeming with people, I actually responded to his question, albeit hurriedly without any real attention, without even any eye contact.
I saw him. I regarded him. And I made him feel like he was there.
Because contrary to what it looked like, the guy wasn’t friggin invisible. I hadn’t imagined him.
He was right there, in full existence. And yes he is homeless, but he is also HUMAN, just like the rest of us.
When I read a Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen , I remember reading that one of the hardest things about being homeless is feeling invisible. Feeling like you no longer exist, as people precariously walk and see past you, ignore you as though you are not there.
You don’t have to open your wallet. You don’t even have to stop. But if someone asks you a question at least have the decency to acknowledge that they are there.