He likes four sugars in his hot chocolates and he loves a margarita pizza. When he can’t get pizza, he will settle for a Brie, bacon and cranberry baguette (Phwoar, Brie’s nice isn’t it? He asked me, as if he had never tried it before). He has a warm northern twang that feels like home (don’t all northern twangs?) and he’s grown a beard that Wolverine would envy.
There’s one fact about Tom that I have neglected to mention (aside from the lopsided beanie he wore on his head and his struggle to make eye contact or speak above a murmur). Tom is homeless. He has been homeless for a few months now after a redundancy followed by arguments with a dodgy landlord. He approached me in Brighton station and asked if I could give him money for some food. I’ve seen the ads in tube stations about murdering the homeless with change (I’ve made that sound dramatic but if you’ve seen the ads, you’ll remember the pictures). So I took him to Upper Crust and got him his extremely sugary hot chocolate, with extra whipped cream, along with his Brie baguette.
I had asked him a few questions (the ones you have read the answers to) and it was when I specified ‘large’ on the hot chocolate front that he said, ‘Thank you so much,’ as if I’d just handed him a thousand pounds. And then: ‘How are you anyway? Are you having a good day?’
Yes, I replied, surprised and humbled by the fact that he’d asked. I’d been feeling ill and grim all day and had just had an interview (I ALWAYS get horribly nervous for interviews) but I wasn’t about to say any of that. By his standards, I’d had an excellent day. I’d woken up in a bed after all.
Tom is quite a young man. Quite handsome under the beard. I asked him if he didn’t have anyone he could stay with? No no, he brushed it off quickly to focus on the positive. He’s working with the council in the summer. He’ll have somewhere to live in the summer.
It is his chant, his mantra for now, and I hope it happens for him. But I think our lovely Tom will be sleeping in his car park for a while. Once you lose a home, how on earth do you get one back? The homeless are trapped by their own walls, despite a lack of real ones.
I passed him his cup of diabetes and his deluxe Brie baguette, complete with napkins (he already had cream in his beard when I left) and wondered, have I really helped at all?
‘Thank you so so much,’ he said again, and then: ‘I love you’ before I ran for my train.
Helped? Maybe. I had topped up his hope, at least. But for now, Tom will still call a corner of somebody else’s car park his ‘home’. And he will still declare love to helpful strangers, for lack of anyone else to feel anything for.