‘Steve? Is that you? Come on, you know I can’t give you anything until I see a response’
He lay there, sleeping bag pulled up over his head, refusing to move, to respond to the persistent questioning coming from Jeff.
He was hungry, and the coffee and bacon sandwich that the Jeff was offering was so tempting, but nothing was free in this world. If he popped his head out, confirmed his identity, and took the breakfast, he’d be opening himself up to a world of questions. ‘How had he been?’, ‘where had he been?’ ‘was he back on the gear?’. ‘What had happened to the hostel they’d got him into?’.
No. it wasn’t worth it. Clinging to the last vestiges of his privacy like a lifejacket, Steve wriggled further into the filthy sleeping bag and pulled it tighter around himself.
It hadn’t always been like this. He’d been pretty successful until that asshole had tried to touch up his wife in Buffalo six years ago. He’d seen red, punched the guy. Unfortunately, military training meant he knew how to hit, and in his beery stupor, had forgotten his restraint. Poor pillock had been in a coma for 6 months after that, and, by all accounts, was never quite the same after. And Steve? 3 years for ABH, divorce, and of course, a dishonourable discharge to boot, all for a well-aimed and, as it turned out, unjustified punch. He couldn’t believe it when Sarah started screaming at him, crying over the useless limp on the floor between them. Hardly surprising he’d turned to the drugs whilst inside, and here he was, maladjusted – like so many former military men – on the streets, on the gear, and unemployable.
His paranoia verged on lunacy at times. That was why he’d been asked to leave the hostel. He’d woken all the other… what? Guests? Inmates? Hard to know what to call the poor creatures holed up in there, each with their own sodden, miserable, broken lives and convoluted stories. Anyway, he’d been shouting that Rick - the pseudo-Rastafarian with whom he’d shared a cell – was trying to climb in the window. Poor Rick. He was madder than Steve. He’d eventually hung himself using his own sheet.
The Cardiff City Centre Team moved on. They’d be back the next day. Maybe Steve, if it was him, would pop his head out then, turtle-like. He’d take a sarnie and a coffee, and chat, amiably. They’d catch up on some news of the street, who was sleeping where, who’d been in a barny on Queen street, who was back on (or maybe even off, if they were lucky) the sauce. Or maybe he’d be ranting, raving, snarling that they were all out to get him. Who knew – it could, and had, gone either way so many times before. But for now, they’d leave him to it, tucked up in his polyester shell, physical and psychological. If he felt safe there, so be it.