By Sylvia Broome, Central Atlanta Community Facilitator
The sun is shining through the cracked and dirty window of the shelter. It’s 6:00am and I’m already sweating. The noise of men rising, taking their backpacks and leaving is irritating. I’m happy to see that my backpack is on the bed. I always sleep with my head on it, but people have ghost hands. Things disappear overnight. I stop by the bathroom and there is a line. Always a line – for everything. The attendant wants money, and I don’t have anything. I go outside and find a place by a wall. I hope no one sees me. If they do, they don’t say.
It’s hot and I’m so hungry.
The sun is blazing and my bags are heavy. I can’t put them down or they will be stolen. It’s happened in the past. I trudge along looking for a shady place to sit. I find a place on a low wall along with a large group of men, women and children, all homeless and nowhere to be. I sit in the uncomfortable silence. The children play and argue, the mothers scold and hush them. The men sit and watch.
It’s hot and I’m so hungry.
I’m stuck sitting on this wall, I’m stuck in this life. I have no where to go, no one is looking for me, no one wondering how I am doing. I think about my family, my children. I want to see them so bad, but I don’t want them to see me like this. I’m hiding, and I miss them so much. But it’s hopeless. I could call, I could pretend, but I don’t have the energy. So I sit. I won’t hurt. But I do.
It’s hot and I’m so hungry.
In the crowd of people, I’m so lonely. I get up and head to the park where I can lie down, I can think. It’s such a mess, but nothing can change because nothing ever has. I want to sleep.
I see a group of people standing on the steps at the park. I’ve seen this group before; they come with coffee and sometimes a snack or pastries. I head over there, for the first time today I feel a little happy. These people are friendly and they don’t want anything from us poor homeless people. I get a cup and sit in silence. The smiles and laughter are nice and somehow, they’re not out of place in this place of pain. I don’t feel like talking but I don’t want to leave. So I sit until they leave. The special space is gone, and reality returns.
Soon the dope boys and their ladies take over the steps. I’m not welcome and I don’t want to be. They stare and I leave.
It’s so hot and I’m hungry.
It’s a long walk to the soup kitchen with my bags, but the soup is always good and they have air-conditioning and ice water. I walk the tramp trail with many others and line up outside the door. There’s always lines. We are conditioned to wait in orderly lines. We homeless are very good at waiting. It’s what we do. I stare off into space, waiting.
Once we’re let in, I see a little girl serving soup with the adults. She looks to be about nine or ten years old. She hands me a tray and gives me a big smile, telling me to have a nice day. Something about her smile makes me smile and I tell her to have a nice day, too. It feels good. I sit at a table with five other men and we eat. We talk about the game last night, and laugh. It feels nice to be in the air-conditioning. The food is good.
But lunch has to end and now it’s time to go. I pick up my bags and head outside. The heat hits me in a blast. The wind doesn’t seem to help much. I walk, nowhere in particular. I just walk.
Its hot and I’m so lonely.
The afternoon sun is blazing and the heat rises from the sidewalk. I look for shade and lay down in a tiny park near an office building, my head on my backpack. The grass feels nice, and I look up and watch the leaves dance in the sun. They look green and gold and the sky is so blue. I watch for a while and doze off. It’s peaceful.
I’m startled awake by a rough kick to my foot. A man, maybe security? Maybe a cop? I can’t see in the sun. I sit up, blinking. He just kicked my foot, hard. He tells me to get up and move along; I can’t sleep here. I see other people, so called “normal” people, sitting in the grass and talking. I bet if they fell asleep nothing would happen. But it’s me, and I’m homeless, and I move along. I don’t want any trouble.
It’s hot and I’m so angry.
I walk and see a friend sitting on a wall. He’s smoking weed, it’s cupped in his hand. He keeps a watchful eye out while he smokes. I sit and he offers me some. I take it and breathe deep. The anger passes and peace washes over me as we sit and smoke. We talk a little.
Churches are feeding the homeless in a nearby park. It’s dinner time and smiling faces behind the safety of tables hand plates of food. Tonight it’s spaghetti and salad with Italian dressing. I love it, and I get a second plate. The people smile, and I smile too. Sometimes people act weird, too nice and too smiley and it feels bad. I feel poor and dirty and they are clean and shiny. But these people are nice and I feel happy. I sit with some others on the wall and eat. I think. Every time I felt good today was because of food. I remember eating with my family. I remember my mother’s cooking. I remember laughter. I remember… and I stop. I don’t want to stop the good feeling I have now.
It’s so hot and I miss my family.
It’s late at night and I sleep on the grass near the sidewalk at a church. I don’t know it, but a friend, a woman I know from church, walks by. She’s given me jolly ranchers many times in the past and she always smiles and gives me a hug. I don’t know her name, like everyone else, I call her Jolly Rancher.
She stops, she watches me sleep. My backpack is under my head, my bag strap is wrapped around my arm. She sits on the wall and watches the cars go by. She listens to the sirens. She sits and watches as people walk by, looking at the sleeping man and the woman just sitting there, watching.
How easy it would be for someone to grab my stuff, hit me, hurt me. Someone to rob me, to rob my peace. But she sits and watches and thinks. How much time goes by, I don’t know. When I wake up, she is gone.
The sun rises and I get up. Already the heat is scorching and I’m sweating.
It’s another day and I’m so hungry.