Friday, 22 March 2019

The Vagrant - up-and-down-and-out


by Stephanie Simpkin

coffee to go 


It, was, a cold, very crisp, bright, sunny, November morning.

The young woman, on her way, to work, wearing sunglasses, carrying, a coffee.

She saw, the tramp ahead, in his usual spot, by a heat outlet. He’d been there, for quite a while, weeks, maybe months.

Long, filthy, matted hair, a dirty beard (dirty everything) lying on piles of bubble wrap, a few badly, stained blankets.

She often, brought him, hot drinks, soup, sandwiches. She, never, gave him money. He might buy Meths, or worse. But, she would buy him a duvet, and a woolly hat. It was now, getting cold, especially, at night.

He always mumbled, his thanks. He never looked up. She tried, talking to him. He just grunted.

Today, the 1st of November, was, a very, bad day for her. A year ago, to the day, she had received the worse news, ever. The death of her beloved, older brother, Sam.

Keep yourself busy, she, told herself sharply. Take your mind off things.

She had, a very successful, career, which she loved. She’d just been made a junior partner, (the youngest, ever) at a very prestigious law firm,in Lincolns Fields.

She couldn’t concentrate. It was Friday afternoon. She gathered her papers and  her mobile and  stuffed them, into her huge bag, and left, the building.

She pulled her collar up, it was chilly, for autumn. She saw the tramp, just, sitting there. She stopped. “What’s your name”? she asked softly. No one had asked him before, at least, not for months.


“I don’t know!” he replied. She thought, she detected, an American accent. “You, from the States?” she asked.

“Must be, I don’t know, can’t remember, anything.” Slowly, he looked up. Startling, bright, cornflower blue, eyes peered out, of his filthy, bearded face.

She took a deep breath, the frosty air and cleared her mind.

“Get up!” She said quietly.

“What!”

“Get up! Stand up, now! You are coming with me”.

“Why, where?”

“Get up!” she shouted. People, were staring.

“What about my stuff?”

“Leave it!”

He stood up slowly, he was tall, 6’1” – 6’2”.

She prodded him to the kerb, raised her hand. A black taxi stopped.

The driver saw the tramp, and tried to drive off. She opened the door. "Triple fare," she said, pushing the tramp, into the cab. “The nearest, super market, the nearest Premier Inn, please!”

The cab pulled away.

At Tesco’s, she got out.  “Stay here!” she said, sharply.

She bought, a track suit, socks, underwear, tee-shirts, a warm jumper, shampoo, deodorant, a tooth brush, toothpaste, razor.

Shoes: she didn’t know his size. He was tall. She guessed, a size ten.

The cab, dropped them off, at a Premier Inn.

“Keep, out of sight.” she hissed. She booked a room and pushed him quickly into the lift.

“Right, take this bag, have a goodnight' s sleep and take a shower. I will be back, at nine tomorrow, we’ll have breakfast together.”

“Thank you! Why, are you doing this, for me, am I dreaming, is this real?”

“I will tell you tomorrow. Here’s sixty quid. Get a haircut and a burger!”

“No! I can’t!”

“Take it!”

Nine o’clock Saturday morning, she knocked on his door.

The door opened. She took a step back.

The tall, thirtyish, good-looking, blue eyed, clean shaven, young, man. Hair, cut short.

“My God! Come, Premier, breakfast.”

He smiled, showing perfect, white, dazzling, teeth.

“My name's Samantha, I’ll call you Sam, ok?”

“Yea! Why, you helping me!”

“My wonderful, brother, came home from Afghanistan, a broken man, both mentally, and physically scarred. The army couldn’t help him. No one could. He was a shell, of his former self, PTSD, diagnosed, and, chronic Q fever”.

“Sorry, Q fever?”

“Q fever, requires, months of antibiotic treatment. It’s caught from animal faeces, the MoD denied wrong doing. He saw his two buddies get their heads blown off in an ambush. Then, the survivors guilt.”

 “One day, he disappeared, without a trace. I went to the police, the army. Eventually, I found a private detective. Nothing, zero.”

“I got a phone call, a year ago yesterday. He had, been found, dead, on a pavement, in Scotland, hypothermia. He had, become a tramp, a vagrant! I tried getting the coroner to look into his death. He wouldn’t. I am a lawyer. Even I could do nothing.”

“How, did they find you?”

“The only, item on his body, only possession, his army ID card”.

“I saw you, yesterday, if, someone, had stopped, helped, him, taken the trouble, he might still be alive today.”

“You must remember, something?”

“Well, yea! I woke up in a hospital, in Charring Cross. I had no phone, no wallet, not even loose change. I was wearing a tee-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.”

“The doctors couldn’t tell, if I had been mugged, or fallen, my head cracked open. I had amnesia. “Eventually, I recovered, physically. No memory, not even my name. The police came, no luck, I hadn’t, been reported missing.”

“ No ID! Some social workers, tried to help, they were good to me, they found me a place at a half-way house, sort of hostel. I found a few casual, part time jobs, kitchen porter, cleaner. Cash in hand, no national insurance card.

“I left the hostel, it was full, of down and outs, yea!”

“ At first, I earned just enough, for food. When I went back to the hostel, I had lost my place. I tried keeping myself clean, I found beds  sometimes, slept in churches, doorways, anywhere, everywhere. Then, I was sacked, four months, of sleeping rough, a nightmare.

“People, spat at me and swore. Some were kind, like you. They gave me money, hot drinks and  food. I moved about. I was, moved on. They didn’t allow me into, MacDonald's. One kind café owner, brought me food, I always stood outside, insisted on paying.

“I survived, it was relatively safe near where you worked. But, I had enough. Yesterday, I decided to end it all, Jump in to the Thames. It was so cold, at night, enough. Then, you, came along. Fate.  Luck!”

“Your family, a wife, a girlfriend, friends, someone, must have missed you, somewhere, surely?”

“Don’t know, really don’t!”

“Right, I have a friend. She works, in a brain trauma unit.  I will get you some help, I promise”.

She let him move into her spare room. All her friends told her she was mad. He could be violent, a murderer, a rapist, a thief.

He cleaned her flat, cooked, shopped. She came home from work to tasty hot meals, not takeaways.

It was hard for her, hard for them. Was he married? Did he have children? Who, was he?

This couldn’t, go on indefinitely. He saw various doctors, a shrink and  a hypnotist. There was no progress. Was, he for real, her brain asked. Her heart, said yes. Three weeks later, he told her, he was leaving, that it wasn’t fair on her. She had spent a fortune on his private health care.

She sat him down, poured a large drink, for both of them. Sinatra’s mellow tones. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright, “New York “ he shouted. "New York," sang Sinatra.

“Brad, my names Brad, Brad-----"

She took a photo of him on her mobile and emailed, it to her best friend, who worked on the New York Times. Told her, his story. Front page, news.

Two days later, his sister had rung the Times. "Has he got blue eyes?” she’d asked.

The full story, Bradley Holmes, New Yorker. Very, successful corporate lawyer. Thirty-five, unmarried, in Paris on business. Decided to make, an unscheduled stop. Euro Star to London, a bit of sight-seeing for the weekend. He’d checked out of the hotel, left his suitcase, in the porter’s store. One last stroll, then home.

His sister, his friends, his bosses were all looking, for clues in Paris. The French police checked the hotels and found out he had left. Missing without a trace.

The problem nowadays: data protection, the banks, the airlines, even the police, and, hospitals. You could die, be ill, data protection, rules! Who, is it protecting?

Brad, became, like her brother and  she another sister to him.

 He got married, had kids, and she was the children’s Godmother. She loved his wife.

 She got married.  He loved her husband. He stayed with her and she stayed with him, The became  like a proper family.  

Life went on, every November 1st, no matter, where they were in the world, there was an email or a  phone call. Neither of them, would, ever, forget.




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