Jess Hardy is 18 and is homeless, she left home at the age of 16 due to, shall we say, family disagreements. Jess now lives on the streets of London and the only person she can trust is an illegal arms dealer/shop owner called Matt. What will happen when a stranger shows Jess a single act of random kindness?


3. Strangers

 Its been a little over two weeks since I last saw Matt and that was when I stitched up his bullet wound but this isn't my wish. After I had finished cleaning up the cut on his eye brow Matt pushed me into the store room and started an almost non-provoked argument about his 'job' if you can call it that.

"I don't do this through choice-" I knew exactly what he meant by 'this'

"There's always a choice."   

"Don't give me that shit!" Matt snapped. I've told him before, too many times because before it was something that would make him smile and give him hope, now, to him choice is an idealistic vision that could bring him to tears; if he weren't so proud. " I do this because of safety"

"Safety," I spit "You call getting shot more times than I can count safety." 

"Are you sure you didn't lie to me and you really left school at 8 not 16." he retorted

"What is that supposed to mean?."

"You can't count to 7." he holds up seven fingers.

" Getting shot 7 times is a lot. And I'm not an idiot" I add suddenly getting defensive.

"Your right, your not," he says lowering his voice and hands "But when it comes to me and what I do, you are. So stop thinking you know everything and please leave it alone."

I have to force myself to to look at him, disgusted that he thinks I can just drop everything after all that we have been through. His eyes plead with me but the rest of his face stays straight, desperately trying to make himself seem stronger than he is. There's another thing that I dislike about him (this list will never stop growing) and it's that which cements my next actions. "Fine." I hiss through clenched teeth and storm purposefully out the store room and the shop, picking up my rucksack on the way, slamming the door behind me.

I know I'm being childish: not talking to Matt for so long over something as trivial- wait , this isn't trivial at all, this is his life. I have a right to be so angry at him and I know he can look after himself he was able to so that way before he met me. 

I slump onto a random wall on a random street and allow my rucksack to glide off my shoulder, onto the glistening, frosty pavement. I let out a long sigh and try to get myself to relax. As I breathe in, cold air whips though my lips, instantly drying and cracking them-I hate winter.

A frozen breeze slides it's way through my limp hair, pushing weightless ginger strands behind my shoulders, leaving only a thinning hoddie as protection. Shivers shoot out from my spine causing my arms and upper body to shake violently before stilling a moment later.

I know of some public toilets which have warm-ish showers that are near by-when you are sleeping rough in London it doesn't take long to memorise a map of the streets and have all the public toilets pin pointed. It's very handy if you are ever in a situation where you need somewhere to hide because no one ever suspects the toilets.

I pick up my bag and sling it over my shoulder.

It takes me just over twenty minuets to reach the toilets I was looking for, which is quite impressive considering that i was 2 miles away and haven't been in this part of London for almost a year. I haven't been here because i simply haven't needed to be here, I've needed to be near Matt and this is roughly a 3 hour walk from here to Matt's shop and that is too far if any thing happens. 

Inside, I walk past the cubicles for the loo and pass through a door into a reasonable sized communal changing room-I'd forgotten about that. On the left side of the room four cubicles (if you could call them that) were lined up against the mouldy tiled wall. Three panes of slightly opaque glass separated each shower and a single shower curtain offered little privacy from the changing room. Everywhere was dirt and mud: on the floor; on the walls; on the curtain and even on the head of one of the shower's. 

I threw my rucksack on the hook nearest to the far left cubicle and took out a pair of knickers, a blue capped sleeve top and a pair of tatty black jeans but then again what don't I own that isn't tatty? I figured I could get a few extra days wear out of my bra so I put it and the other clothes i planned to wear on the same hook as my ruck sack. 

I don't own a towel so I have to 'borrow' hundreds of paper towels from the paper towel dispenser which I not only use to dry myself with but to also put on the floor to act as a shield from the mud. I lift up my foot so I am balancing on one leg to undo the laces of my shoes and pull them off making sure that I step onto the paper towels when  put my leg down. 

I look around to make sure no one is there to see me and when I am certain that I am deserted,I strip down, rushing to put my clothes (other than my bra which I had previously taken off) safely back in my bag. Sprinting into the shower I then pull the shower curtain closed, shutting myself off from the rest of the world. That is how it should be, me, alone, having no one else to protect. 

I close my eyes and allow the luke warm water dribble over my fragile body.  Water is the closest thing to soap that I have because soap is expensive and I would rather eat.  

I try to think back to the last time I used soap but my memory seems to have failed me. However, I rarely grant myself access to a time before soapless showers, before Matt, before even the streets. 

Two years ago, well two years next month, I packed a bag and climbed out of the window in my bedroom. I was 16 and very ignorant, I had no idea that you could put yourself into care and if I did, lets just say that right now I probably wouldn't be standing in a public shower.


After my shower I found myself here, sitting on the concrete steps outside of the national basking in the icy sunshine, watching the boring world go by. 

My hair had almost dried, tangled from lack of a hairbrush, when a shadow grew in front of me. "Are you supposed to be sitting there" a voice spoke behind me: male, confident like he's doing something he shouldn't be so my guess is early twenties or late teens judging by all the known factors. My eyes scan the bare crowds, trying to identify any faces that may be turned this way, towards me. Talking to a homeless person by choice-I don't think do, I think he has been put up to this by his friends for a joke. I hate being laughed at. 

When I didn't respond he hopped down from the step he was standing on to sit shoulder to shoulder with me.

 "Yes because silence is actually an invitation for you to sit next to me." I say, my voice layered with sarcasm and I don't even turn my head to look at his snide face. 

"Did anyone ever teach you that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit." he replied with the softest voice I have ever heard, not that he has much competition.

"Yes, my mother, everyday." I lie, all my mother taught me was that life isn't like the books I read as a child: there is no one to save you. 

I let a small smile stretch across my face as I hear his silent reply. However, bliss only lasted a few moments before a rustling comes from my right. I turn my head to glare at him but it falls short when I see his soft, rounded facial features and his emerald eyes giving him a welcoming glow. 

"Pizza?" he offered, noticing me looking at him and held up a piece of cheese and tomato pizza wrapped in crinkled tin foil. 

I sigh, turning my head away from him, resuming to look at passing facing for his friends who are probably in hysterics by now. 

"Now much of a social person, eh?" he looks at the pizza, pulls a face then wraps it up in the foil again.

"Where are they?" I whisper, thinking aloud-it's involuntary.

"Where are who?" He asks as if he doesn't know whilst looking in the direction my head is turned to. 

"Your friends," I keep looking but I'm surprised that my voice is still thoughtful and not at all shoutey. "The people who told you to do this,"

"Do what?" this stupid act is really starting to get old now, and I'm getting bored.

"To talk to me," I raise my voice but I am still in control, I haven't snapped. Yet. "The only reason a stranger would come and talk to me is to turn me into a joke," I turn my head so our faces are inched apart and lower my voice "I hate jokes."

He leans back to get some more space between us as he nods, making his short, dirty blond hair bounce on the top of his head "I can see that," Timid. I love it when I make them cower, I lean away from him to straighten my back to its full length. "However, I went for the reason that I was bored and you were alone," All the timidness evaporated from his voice leaving the same matter-of-fact tone I use when I want to render Matt's argument useless. "My name is Sam by the way." He adds with a smile that shows off his perfectly straight, white teeth. 

"Am I supposed to congratulate you for being able to recite your own name?" I retort and turn my head back toward the people around me and away from his arrogant, irritatingly kind face. 

"I wouldn't mind a medal if you've got one."

"Piss off."   I say flatly and mindlessly, it's not rare that I will people to go away and most usually obey me. However at my command Sam bursts out laughing like I told a joke and like I told him: I hate jokes.

I stop searching and glare at him. This is when it all starts, when his friends emerge out of the sea of faces and start mocking me. Good because I need a fight. 

After several seconds Sam has calmed himself down and still no friends emerge but I'm still ready. "I was not expecting that." He says through a sudden fit of laughter.

"What were you expecting?" I say coldly.

"I was expecting you to be more..." he pauses looking me up and down "Nope I was wrong you meet expectations."

"And what were they." My voice lighter this time as if softened by curiosity rather than sharpened like normal. 

"Urm...fiery." he shifts his eyes towards my hair and then swiftly back to my face, like he didn't want me to notice him stereotyping me.

I stare at him wide eyed and expectant. "Is that all you expected?" I try not to smile but I can feel it creep along my face. 

"Well." Sam says as we both start to laugh. 

It feels nice: laughing, I haven't done it for so long, all me and Matt talked about was his dealership and them conversations never ended in laughter. When Matt and I did laugh it never felt like this. Now, I feel free.  

That free feeling only lasted a second before my wings were clipped, now I need to be back in my own shell, in safety. Away from here, away from him. 

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