They had never loved anyone before. Andrew and Sophie huddled together with donated blankets around them as they sat side by side in the deep doorway of a disused factory. Everything was disused here. Many years ago, this area had been a thriving business estate, with lorries bringing in goods and taking other products away for national distribution. This very road had been the heart of all the operations, yet now the concrete road was cracked and weeds grew up through it all, and the factories were closed off from the world with green steel shutters; the face of modern Britain.
The spiteful February rain did not let up. Andrew and Sophie were careful to not let the cardboard get wet. They sat and laid on it for insulation from the harsh, man-made stone, although recently they hadn’t laid down much. The squats inside buildings were full of drug paraphenalia such as used needles, uncapped and unsafe, and so there was nowhere to lie down in the rainy, wintery weather. Just doorways that leaked. Andrew had suggested that they put the plastic bags from the foodbank inside their trainers and tie them around their ankles so that they didn’t develop trenchfoot. Andrew tried to not be too graphic when he described his past experience with trenchfoot, when his feet had turned white and the skin of the soles of his feet hung off in strips. He didn’t want Sophie to think he was even mkre disgusting than he already was. He was thankful that Sophie didn’t want sex or kissing. Just a hug. Like most homeless women, Sophie’s childhood had been one of penises and forced kisses and “parties”.
Sophie had run away from home time after time, and so she had been put into the “care system” where the men had even more access to her. When Sophie had gone missing, no one cared. Her mother managed to stay sober for long enough to make a television appeal, but after two weeks all that was a distant memory – a small cloud among many hazey clouds conjured up by cheap chemical cider. Sophie huddled close to Andrew, a boney old man at the age of thirty-six.
‘I hope the rain stops soon,’ she said. ‘There’s that St Theresa’s doing hotpot today until two o’clock. I used to love hotpot.’
‘With red cabbage,’ Andrew added. ‘The churches used to do hotpot all the time before buffets came into fashion. I was all up for some proper scran, I got to the church – St Duncan’s I think it were – and there was this big table of sausage rolls and crisps and quiche. I mean, that’s not going to fill anyone!’
Sophie frowned. ‘That must’ve been ages back. Were you homeless back then?’
‘Nah,’ Andrew said, smiling as he thought back to his previous life. ‘I had a bedsit and I was on an ET scheme. YTS – you know – earn on the job?’
‘Never heard of it,’ Sophie said.
‘It was before your time,’ Andrew replied. ‘So I was training to be a brickie, and it was OK. Got paid fifty quid a week, which wasn’t like being paid fifty quid is now. Back then, things were cheaper. So I had a job and some money coming in and I went to the churches for money.’
‘What happened?’ Sophie asked.
I started writing this story from a couple of prompts. I am using some of what I have seen lately and combining it with my work with street homeless people. Yes, two weeks ago I saw a man with carrier bags in his trainers to keep his feet dry. He couldn”t afford new shoes. The modern face of Britain.
The rest of this story will be posted in a couple of days’ time.