He was there again, outside the station, selling the Big Issue. Giles never bought one because he didn’t want one, or at least he didn’t know if he wanted one; you could hardly peruse it then hand it back. On the tube Giles had The Times to read, he subscribed to it on his Kindle. He had also downloaded 563 books, 13 of which he had read. Occasionally he wandered into WH Smith for the pleasure of browsing amongst colourful, glossy magazines: photography, computers, music… perhaps buying…
‘Can I interest you in a half price Galaxy Sir?’
Yes, he would take a treat home for Judith.
‘No thank you.’
‘Have a nice day Sir.’
Why did the Big Issue seller have to be so polite, making him feel more guilty? There was a whole minefield of BI behaviour he had observed over the years, over the cycle of half a dozen sellers. One man regularly bought a copy and dumped it straight in the bin a few yards further on, others proffered a pound or a handful of change without looking the seller in the eye. This morning he observed a woman offering a shiny two pound coin, holding out her hand to receive the magazine.
‘Keep the change.’
‘They cost £2.50 each love’ the homeless one answered curtly.
Flustered, she hurried away clutching the coin.
Giles was glad to get out of the biting east wind, down into the warm depths of the underground, but he wondered where the Big Issue seller lived. Did he really have to sleep out on the streets in this awful weather, or did he slip round the corner and drive home in his Jaguar?
A truly good person would offer a homeless man shelter not just buy a magazine. Giles had spare bedrooms; well not exactly spare, where would Judith put her sewing and what about the computer? Sarah’s bedroom looked much as it had when she left a year ago. A vision passed before him of the homeless one sitting on the pink bed clutching Big Ted.
Over dinner that evening Giles said ‘Do you think we should downsize?’
‘What?’ exclaimed Judith. ‘We’ve only just finished paying the mortgage, we deserve to enjoy this house.’
‘But we don’t need four bedrooms.’
‘What if Simon and Tammy have a baby, we’d need room for them to stay.’
‘As Tammy isn’t pregnant yet and they are going round the world, we could help a homeless person get on their feet.’
‘Are you feeling alright Giles? You couldn’t wait for Simon and Sarah to leave home, now you want to… what are you suggesting?’
‘Imagine sleeping out on a night like this.’
‘There are hostels; besides, we’ve only got one bathroom and we’d have to hide our valuables.’
‘We haven’t got any valuables.’
‘Imagine explaining to the police or the insurance company that we invited a total stranger into our house and he rifled my handbag and your wallet for drug money.’
‘We don’t know that he’s a druggy.’
‘Precisely, we don’t know anything about him, I don’t even know if he’s a real person or hypothetical.’
He was there again the next morning. At least he’s survived the coldest November night for years, mused Giles. How would a stranger fit into one’s home, lodger, son… how old was he? Hard to tell with that woolly hat. If they went out to dinner would they leave something in the oven for him? Judith might take to him if he scrubbed up well; some of Simon’s clothes were still in the wardrobe. What would he do all day while they were both out at work, odd jobs perhaps? If the real man emerged, clean, witty and intelligent, they would be proud. Judith might take a shine to him, too much of a shine, he could become her toy boy, like one of those novels they read at her book club.
The idea came to him at lunch time when he was in the new shoe shop. He found a decent pair of comfortable black leather shoes for work.
‘Two pairs for the price of one sir, opening offer, today only’ said the girl at the till.
‘But I only want one pair, on second thoughts have you got another pair much the same?’
He was there when Giles came out of the station concourse carrying two carrier bags, shoes and WH Smith. Giles almost lost his nerve. He mumbled to the Big Issue seller.
‘You’re on your feet all day, are these any good to you… have a Galaxy as well.’
The man looked suspiciously at Giles, but it was a start, perhaps tomorrow he would start a conversation, find out what the man’s situation really was.
When Giles turned on television for the local news the next morning there was a picture of the underground entrance.
…and in further cold weather news, the body of a man believed to be a Big Issue seller was found early this morning by the locked gates of an underground station. First indications are that the cause of death could be hypothermia, but police are not releasing medical details until a post mortem has been carried out. They are keen to speak to commuters or anyone from the Big Issue Community, unusually the dead man was wearing a brand new pair of good quality leather shoes.
Read tales for all seasons in Hallows and Heretics – take a peek inside the book.
A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.