by Linda W Payne
a glass of tap water
Lisa tossed the toffee she was sucking nervously from one side of her mouth to the other. She maintained a firm grip on the blue rolled up sleeping bag she was carrying as she sat patiently on the window ledge of the department store waiting for a bus. Lisa had no interest in looking at the shop window, she knew that the items on display there, or indeed in any shop, would be out of her financial reach.
As she adjusted her dark framed glasses, she noticed further along the ledge a lad was slumped asleep. Drunken sleep? Drugged sleep? Wild party the night before? These would be justifiable assumptions to make, but people could be wrong. After all she presented herself as a normal, carefree teenager she supposed but everyone would be wrong about that.
She pulled her sleeping bag closer to her. She had been waiting at the bus stop for no more than ten minutes when her bus arrived. If asked she would have said she had been waiting about half-an-hour. Lisa clambered the stairs to the upper deck because there seemed to be less toing and froing of passengers there.
On the back seat a group of giggling girls were also carrying sleeping bags although theirs were all attached to their rucksacks. They were joyfully discussing the V Festival they would be attending, grateful that their tents were being carried by car drivers. They considered travelling by public transport a small sacrifice to make.
Lisa looked at her own sleeping bag. Was it just five months ago that her shabby sleeping bag was that pristine?
A phone rang but it wasn’t hers. She watched the man who answered it. He beamed a smile as soon as he recognised the caller ‘Hallo son, how’d it go?’ The widening smile and his body language suggested whatever it was went well. She felt quite envious as she listened to this conversation. She retrieved her own phone from her pocket. The cracked screen confirmed there were no messages and she began to feel worried. ‘Simone does know I’m coming?’ She asked herself more loudly than she would have preferred. She lowered her phone and looked intently at it to avoid eye contact with anyone who may have heard her.
Lisa’s phone used to be very busy with friends texting but now her calls were few and far between. Since leaving sixth form college she had remained friends with a wide circle of people for a short time but they were now forming their own lives and the meetings had become infrequent. She was therefore grateful for the friendship that she had maintained with Simone, Mandy and Kerry.
Lisa scrolled down her contact list and pressed call. ‘Hi Simone, guess who.’ Lisa tried hard to sound upbeat and jolly.
‘Hi Lisa, how’s it going? Where are you?’
‘I’m on the bus. I’m on my way to your house if that’s okay?’ she asked hesitantly.
‘Of course. Mum’s made us a lasagne which we can have with salad before we go out.’
Going out was not on Lisa’s agenda. ‘Where we going?’ She asked nervously.
‘Kerry wants to go clubbing, if that’s okay with everybody.’
Lisa looked at her scruffy but clean clothes and her heart fell. ‘Mmm that could be okay if I can find a new top to go over my jeans.’ Not even convinced her jeans were good enough.
‘Why wear jeans, don’t you remember you left your dress here. You know the one you bought from the charity shop the last time we were going to go clubbing but we didn’t go.’
‘That’s right we had a girl’s night in instead. I wondered what happened to that frock.’
‘It’s been washed and ironed. Shall I get it and hang it up?’
Beaming Lisa remembered deliberating whether she should use her diminishing savings on what seemed such an extravagance.
‘Yes please.’ She said excitedly. Then pausing she continued tentatively ‘I’ve still got my sleeping bag.’
‘That’s all right. Mum’s okay with the situation.’
Lisa relaxed, feeling buoyed up she text Kerry to confirm the evening.
Kerry text back to say that both she and Mandy would also be staying at Simone’s for the night and that they too had their sleeping bags.
It was a very warm welcome that greeted Lisa when she arrived at Simone’s. The aroma emanating from the kitchen was mouth-watering.
‘Hallo love, how you been keeping.’ Sue, Simone’s mum, gave Lisa a big hug.
‘Quite well, thank you Sue, something smells nice.’ Lisa said without pausing.
‘Cake baking for the scouts bring and buy. They sell well apparently.’ Leading her into the kitchen she asked ‘Do you want one?’
Lisa nodded appreciation and took one. She hadn’t eaten all day and didn’t realise how hungry she had felt until she finished eating.
Noticing this Sue invited her to have another.
‘We have been thinking about you, well more that thinking about you. Our eldest has asked why you don’t use his room as he’s in the army. He did say though that he would want his room back when he’s on leave. He also said that you’re not to touch his football paraphernalia.
‘That’s very kind, thank you Sue and I will leave his stuff as is.’ Lisa was just about holding back her tears as she put her arms around Sue and gave her a gentle kiss of thanks on the cheek.
‘You’re welcome. How’s the sofa surfing going?’
‘Okay.’ She lied. I really am grateful to you, Mandy’s family and Kerry’s for putting up with me these past months. I don’t know what I’d have done without you all.’
‘We couldn’t have you sleeping on the streets now, could we.’
Lisa shuddered, she didn’t want any of them to know that although she stays with them for short periods there are still too many nights when she is sleeping rough.
‘We all thought that what your dad did was despicable. Throwing you out on the streets when you had just left college. He knew you didn’t have a job. How he could do that I don’t know and just a month after your eitheenth birthday.
‘I think his new girlfriend didn’t like me. I think it was her who put the pressure on Dad to chuck me out and I think it was her who knew that if I’d have been evicted before my eigtheenth birthday then social services might be involved.’
‘She sounds a scheming bitch. Anyway, that’s not a good reason to make you homeless. What would your mum say if she were still alive?’
Thinking about her mum was too painful a thought for Lisa. Her cancer had spread from her liver, to her bowel and then around the body very rapidly. Lisa was sixteen when she died. ‘Thanks for the room,’ she repeated as a means of changing the subject.
‘If you stay here you can claim that you have a permanent address. You can have your mail sent here and you can apply for jobs then perhaps replenish your savings. Sue put out her arms indicating she wanted a hug. Lisa obliged and gave her the biggest cuddle she could muster. They were still hugging tightly when Sue called out.
‘Simone, show Lisa to her bedroom while I dish up dinner.’
Lisa accompanied Simone to her temporary accommodation. Lisa looked around the room and smiled at the collection of football items. Although not a football fan somehow their presence felt homely. She tossed her sleeping bag into a corner grateful that it wouldn’t be needed for a while. She fell on the bed. It had been five long months since she had been able to do that.