Conversation with a homeless person

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

— John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

For the past week, every night when I pass through Hobson Street on the way to my new apartment, it’s affecting to see homeless people sleeping just outside the doors of St Matthew church, next to Auckland City Mission. I see them every single night. Nights when darkness comes early, nights when darkness comes late, nights when it rains vigorously and the air is freezing cold, nights when the roaring wind blows through the skin and touch your bones like a blade. In nights like this, I see them in their broken jacket, with either over-long pants that’s long enough to touch the ground, or over-short pants that leave their bare ankles in the freezing cold. I see the paleness on their faces and in their eyes, sometimes peaceful, sometimes fearful, and sometimes resentful.

I tried to approach them and converse with them. Sometimes it’s successful if I am talking to a cheerful man, the conversation would last about around ten minutes and it usually ends up with me buying a bottle of Coke in one of the stores nearby for them. Sometimes, actually most of the times, I don’t understand what they say (mainly because of my trouble of understanding strong accents in English).

But what really struck me is what a middle-aged man told me one day at the end of our conversation. He was talking for the majority of the conversation and to be honest I didn’t understand the most of it because he was speaking very fast, and simply ignored me when I asked him to slow down. In the end he asked me: “do you know what’s special about us? I said: “What is it, sir?” “Those of us live on the street, we look out for each other! You know, if there is trouble coming, we warn each other, if there is good stuff happening in town, we tell each other, man we look out for each other.”

Poverty is bad. But loneliness is worse than poverty. I used to think these people are the loneliest people in the world. They open their eyes at dawn and start to worry about where they will get the money for their only meal of the day. And when they have enough money for food, they start to wander around town looking for a warm corner to spend the night. They have nothing to look forward to. But now I know that’s not true. I am happy to realise that although they are poor, they are not lonely, because they look out for each other.

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~ 20 March, 2013

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