At this point, I don’t even feel their eyes on me, I don’t hear the soft intake of breath through their noses as they check to see do I smell as I pass by, I just plod along with Toby in tow on his rope leash. I would much prefer if I could leave him with no leash, he isn’t wild, he won’t bite and he wouldn’t run from me, but I know the settled people would have him taken if I don’t follow their rules.
Toby chooses to be with me, he could find another companion quite easily. He chooses to allow me to put the rope on him, and I am grateful for it, as otherwise I would have to journey to town by myself. I don’t like big towns, but for me, they are easier to live in, during the colder months at least. In the summer I will go to smaller villages, never staying in one place for more than a week or two. In a small village a strange man gets noticed quickly, in a big town no one sees you. Big towns remind me of Cardiff, where I grew up. I don’t like to think of that, it sends me to the drink, but in winter, sometimes the drink is what you need to stay warm at night.
The only people who give me the time of day are either other vagrants who roam the roads and occupy the doorsteps, or young people. The vagrants don’t truly interest me, they are too much of an unknown quantity. You never know why a man chooses to live outside society, is it because he never fitted in in the first place, is it because he is a thief, a bad person in some way, harmful, or because of his thirst for drink or drugs? No, those guys don’t suit me at all. I enjoy talking with the young people. Lads and lasses who are just nearly out of school and who have the world at their feet. I guess it’s because I never got to that position in life, I kind of missed it, or skipped it. They are always so excited about something or other, new music, new relationships, and they love to share, they want to show me there technologies, tell me their stories. Now, I have heard all the stories, I know all the ways young people go and foul up their lives, but I don’t tell them that. No, sir, I just listen well, smile and laugh, sip on my can. That’s another trick that is important to know on the streets, always have a can. Puts people at ease. Sure, ya can’t be swinging boxes with a can in your hand. I can make a can last hours if I have to.
Toby pulls at his lead, he has stopped behind me and is trying to pull me down a side street.
“What is it, Tobes? Ya found somethin’?”
I steal a quick glance up and down the road, and no one is paying me any heed, so I go down the alleyway. Toby brings me to a shopping bag.
“What’s this, lad?”
Toby nuzzles the bag and it falls over, spilling cans of food onto the street. I look out of the alleyway again. There is enough food in here to last me the next month.
In Cardiff, I was shown how to rob things and get away with it. How to walk down the street wearing a coat you had just robbed and walk like you owned it. But in my life I learned that robbing things can get you in trouble. I have the scars to show it. People don’t see me as a human, they see me as outside of society, and don’t treat me with the same rules they would a man in a suit. When they think I have broken there rules, they don’t wait for justice, they claim it through their fists and feet, and when they hit me, I can feel all there frustration at living a life ordered by someone more powerful than them coming out through their blows.
“It’s not ours Toby, come on.”
Toby follows me out of the alley obediently, though I know he doesn’t know why I am leaving the food behind. He is a good dog.
“Oi, Oi you!”
I look up and a middle aged greying man is walking across the street waving and calling at me.
“Oi, you, you cant leave your rubbish up there, come on now, for christ sake.”
I don’t say anything. He clearly thinks that bag in the alley is mine.
“Well, can’t you understand me, for Christ’s sake? You can’t leave your rubbish around here, I tell you!”
He is getting quite angry, his face is growing redder and redder. I still don’t respond.
“Now look here, I’m on the tidy towns council, and I’m sure you can guess, I hold a bit of sway in this town. It’s only thanks to our good Christian charity that you are allowed to stay in this town, and I won’t have you messing up the place. Get that bag, and go find a rubbish bin to put it in, their are plenty around.”
This chap is quite amusing. I decide to feign mental retardation.
“Urr, yer wan’ me ter take der bag?” I pull my face into an expression of confusion, as a child would.
“Yes, yes, get the bag and go!”
I look down at Toby and he is panting happily. I wonder what he does understand of this.
I walk back up the alley, and can still here the man breathing heavily at the entrance where we had spoken. I pick up the bag and hold it up to him, smiling and pointing at it, and then at me. He throws his hands in the air, exasperated at this slow bum he has had to educate in the ways of society. He turns his back and walks back across the street.
I walk out of the alley way, whistling happily. I guess I have just saved myself a trip to the shops.