Homeless (Narry one shot)

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1. The homeless kid.

 

Every day I ignored the homeless kid.

I was embarrassed for him, sitting there in the same chinos and jumper day after day. I was embarrassed for me, having to see him that way. I was embarrassed for London because hundreds of tourists from all around the world saw him there.

I made sure my eyes slid away and my attention focused elsewhere as I hurried by him on my way to school. I was afraid to look at him, as if his poverty was a disease spread by eye contact. I kept my gaze on my feet, and though I sometimes felt his eyes boring into my soul, I never glanced his way. When I walked back from school later in the afternoon he would be gone. I don’t know where he went, but I occasionally found myself wondering. But I never asked. I never did anything to acknowledge the fact that he actually existed.

It was a Tuesday when he spoke to me for the first time.

All he said was good morning, in a bright and cheery Irish accent. I muttered a hello back, making sure I didn’t actually look at him, and hurried on my way.

This continued for a week and I still couldn’t tell you what his face looked like. I could tell you what he wore; a pair of tattered white Supras, light tan chinos with a slight tear in the left knee, and an oversized blue woolen jumper. I could tell you what he sounded like; pleasant and bubbly like a mountain stream. I could tell you how he sat; legs crossed Indian style and delicate, but dirty, fingers tugging at the worn tongue of his sneaker. I could tell you that he was approximately 5’7 or 5’8 with a skinny build and blonde hair that looked darker on some days than others. I couldn’t tell you what color his eyes were, if his lips curled up into a smile when he said hello to me, whether he had freckles or not, or if he was hideous or gorgeous. He could have been the most beautiful boy in the world and I wouldn’t know. In my mind he was just a body with a blank hole where his face should be.

Because having a face would make him too real.

-

It was exactly a week to the first day he spoke to me when the Irish boy switched up our routine. I was shuffling past him, my hello ready on my lips when he spoke.

“Good morning,” his voice smiled, just like always. “How are you?”

My hello died and I coughed awkwardly, keeping my eyes on his shoes. “Good thanks,” I moved on without asking him how he was doing back.

Maybe tomorrow.

-

It was a month and a half after he began acknowledging me that the temperature dropped. I began to hear the shiver on his voice and he had started hugging his legs to his chest as his teeth chattered. I wanted to tell him to go inside, to find somewhere warm, but then I would remember there was a reason he was out in the streets. It was because he didn’t have anywhere warm.

It was a drafty day in the end of November when I first stopped. He had said his usual good morning but today instead of walking past I paused in front of him.

I had gotten used to him, coming to expect his hello every day. I actually looked forward to it, thought I still hadn’t worked up the courage to look him in the eye. I felt like we had a bond.

“It’s cold out,” were the first words I spoke to him other than hello or good morning.

“I know,” his voice sounded curious, as if he wondered why I had suddenly broached a conversation. I slowly lifted my gaze to his chin, making it up to his lips before stopping. They were small and pink and chapped. There was the tiniest hint of blue to them and I could see his jaw moving as his teeth chattered. I focused on his mouth. It was surprisingly pretty.

“It was cold yesterday too,” I shifted from foot to foot. I had left home five minutes earlier than usual so I could do this.

“Yes it was,” I watched the way his lips moved when he talked. It was kind of intoxicating.

“I have something for you,” I dropped to my knees and dug around in the knapsack I pulled off my back, tugging out an old blanket I had pilfered from my hall closet. My mum would never notice it missing. “Here,” I held it out to him. “So you don’t freeze to death.”

It was the first time I saw him smile, and I have to say it was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t help it, I raised my gaze to take in his full face.

He was beautiful.

His fingers closed in on the warm material of the blanket and for a second we both held it, connected by the simple fabric. Then I let it drop and he gathered it to his chest, hugging it closely as he looked up at me.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “So much.”

“It’s fine,” I coughed awkwardly and glanced away from those magnetizing blue eyes. “Stay warm all right?” I stood up and threw my backpack over my shoulder, taking off towards school without another glance.

-

“Morning,” I glanced down at the boy today when he spoke to me, giving him a small smile. The blanket I had given him the day before was wrapped tightly around his shoulders and I was glad to see the blue tint to his lips was gone.

“Morning,” I replied. “Sleep well?”

He shrugged, “Well enough.”

“Don’t freeze to death okay?”

“I won’t,” he smiled. “Don’t worry about me.”

-

We kept up that routine through the entire winter. I would pause, tell him not to freeze to death, and he would smile back with a promise to survive. As the nights grew longer and colder, I found myself bringing more things to him. An old winter jacket I never wore, another blanket, a thermos of hot chocolate, gloves, a hat, a scarf, anything that would keep him warm.

I still didn’t know his name or why he was out on the streets, but it didn’t really matter. I considered him my friend anyway, and I like to think he considered me one as well.

Then there was the blizzard.

It was the middle of January and the storm was ferocious. The wind howled for hours and the snow piled up quickly. The temperature dropped to well below freezing and I found myself growing worried about the homeless kid. How would he survive this?

The next day was a snow day, but I grabbed a shovel and some hot chocolate and went out anyway. When I reached the place where he always was there was nothing but any empty stretch of sidewalk. Instead of assuming the worst, I figured he had found shelter for the night and didn’t feel like leaving it. I put the thermos in the spot where he usually sat and headed home.

He was missing the next day too.

And the next.

And the next.

Then a week went by.

Two weeks.

Three.

A month.

Two months.

I continued to look for him, my eyes jumping to that empty space on the sidewalk that he had once filled.

But he was never there.

Then one day I noticed something taped to the brick wall of the building he used to lean against. I hurried over and grabbed it. It was a note. It was addressed to ‘the boy who saved me from freezing to death.’

I unfolded the paper and a picture fluttered out. It was a picture of the boy, jumper in one hand and my blanket in the other. He was standing on a beach.

I quickly read the letter, my eyes scanning the bubbly words.

Hi, I don’t think I ever got your name.

I remember the first time I saw you. I knew you were walking to school because you had on a blue blazer and khakis and a white polo. It reminded me of a time when I used to go to school. You looked about my age. I wanted to say hi, but I saw the way you made sure never to look at me. I know you were embarrassed and ashamed and I don’t know why. It wasn’t you who sat out there every day, so why should you be embarrassed? It was my problem, not yours. I wanted some way to tell you that, that I wasn’t a disease, but I didn’t know how. So I just said hi. You were surprised, I could tell. But you said hi back before hurrying on your way. You didn’t look at me, but you didn’t ignore me. That was good enough for me.

I remember the first time I asked you how you were. You had been prepared to respond with your normal hello. I saw the way it died on your lips. You answered, but didn’t ask me. I know why you didn’t ask. It was because you didn’t want to know. Not that you didn’t care, but just because you didn’t want to hear. You had proof that I was not doing good, just based on the fact that I was sitting there as you hurried to school, but you didn’t want to hear it. Hearing it makes it real. Just like looking at me would have.

I have to say I was shocked when you brought me that blanket. Shocked that you noticed how cold it was, shocked that you thought of me when the temperatures dropped, shocked that you cared enough to want me alive. That was also the day you looked at me. I know I wasn’t what you were expecting. I’m not quite sure what you expected to see when you met my gaze for the first time, but I could read your thoughts in your eyes. You thought I was pretty. You wondered why I was on the streets. You saw yourself in me. You panicked, because if a young decent looking kid could end up on the streets, then who was to say you couldn’t as well. That’s why you started bringing me stuff. Even if you don’t understand it, I do. If you were in my situation, you would want help too. So you helped me. You saved my life, I guarantee it. Thank you for that.

As you can see, I’m gone now. I’ve moved on. I barely survived the winter and I know I could never survive another one. I’m in Florida now, you know, in the US. I worked in the afternoons which, if you were wondering, is the reason I was never there when you walked home from school. I saved up all my money and bought a plane ticket. I’m still homeless and I’m sure I will be for quite a while.

But here, I can’t freeze to death.

Just like I promised you I wouldn’t.

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