Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a homeless person? Why they are the way they are? The forgotten society makes little splash in the media unless they either do something newsworthy, or are the victims of some grievous crime. The guy sleeping on a sidewalk, whom everybody thinks is a passed out drunk; the person sitting in the park mumbling to himself: who are they really?
I wondered as well about those people who have no support, or don’t want any support and why. So I wrote this as a short story to remember them and what I think goes thorough some of their minds. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and we can’t ignore them. But what can we really do to help them? It’s a question society needs to answer as a whole.
The man woke earlier than usual and knew something was different. He was totally aware of his surroundings, and though he could not define the difference he felt, he knew it was there. He tried to pull it out of his subconscious mind into his conscious, but couldn’t. They told him it didn’t matter, but he knew instinctively it did. As he lay on his mattress, he listened carefully to the outside environment and heard the usual clatter: a siren in the distance, a dog barking, the screech of brakes and a horn honking, but no voices. He rarely heard voices; where he lived other humans had avoided for years.
He slowly lifted the blanket he always covered his head with when he slept and saw it was starting to get light out. He looked around at his surroundings. He noticed nothing amiss, nothing out of place. All four walls intact; his collection of paperback books still carefully stacked no more than three high. His three exits, each secured and unseen by the outside world. They told him that was as he would find it. But he knew deep down something had changed. He knew deep down they were wrong this time. But no matter how hard he tried, that something alluded him.
He remembered back many years ago when a man or a woman told him they were not real. Unless he recognized it, they would take over his life. He knew they were not real, but he still listened and conversed with them. He did not know who they were, or even if they were ghosts of his past, but still he listened and conversed. He accepted the situation because that was the way it was, and it kept him safe.
When he found this place many years ago, they told him he must enclose himself in a quiet atmosphere. So much so internal noise must be forbidden, and he complied. Nothing in his space was allowed that made sounds. He’d carpeted the floor with layers of foam and soft cloth, and had tried many kinds of shoes until he found a pair that allowed him to walk without hearing anything. He was good at finding things people threw away.
He knew enough to allow a free exchange of air so he wouldn’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning, but didn’t know how he knew. Outside sounds were allowed because they could warn him of impending danger. He vaguely remembered a time when some people used the area downstairs one night. He sat quietly in fear of them finding him, but they never did, nor did they ever come back.
His memory was sporadic at best. Sometimes he could see himself sitting in a large chair, with two small children bouncing and laughing on his knees. Sometimes he saw a beautiful woman leaning over him and saying something he couldn’t hear. He sometimes remembered times when noise was good, and he was surrounded by it. But now he avoided it, and didn’t know why, except they told him to.
His world was set: he woke up at the same time, although he didn’t know what time; he just knew it was always the same. He left, never using the same exit two days in a row, and did his daily business in another abandoned building close by. It still had running water. He would then make his way to his usual route, collecting food a few of the merchants always left for him. He never spoke to or thanked them, and they didn’t seem to mind; it was as it was, and he didn’t question it.
He walked the same streets and avoided people whenever he saw them, which wasn’t often. Once and awhile a police car would stop and the policeman would ask if he was doing okay. He would always nod yes, and move on. He remembered one time when a policeman started questioning him, his partner stopped him and they left. That bothered him, but they said not to worry; he’d done just fine.
On this different day, he waited until he thought it was time and left to do his business. He looked carefully at the outside world, looking for that difference, but noticed nothing. After finishing up at the other building, he started his routine, and all went well. He was happy the merchants left him food, and made him think he was wrong about it being different that day. He walked the same streets in the same pattern he’d walked for years, and noticed nothing different. He stopped at the same park he stopped at every day and ate part of his food, saving some for later, and some for the same dog that visited him every day there. He never talked to the dog, and the dog didn’t stay long. Just enough to eat and receive a few scratches from him.
Upon returning to his room, he felt that same sense of difference he felt that woke him up early. They told him it was nothing to worry about, so he tried to put it out of his mind. He settled down for the night, choosing his copy of John Steinbecks “Travels With Charley,” a book he’d read many times, but forgot soon after. He read two chapters, being extra careful to make no noise turning the pages. He finished the food the merchants left him, put the book away, lay down and covered his head with his blanket. He felt more tired than he’d felt in a long time. He soon fell asleep and dreamt there was a beautiful woman standing over of him, smiling down, with two small children holding her hands. He knew they looked familiar, and a feeling of joy washed over him as a spark of recognition started entering his mind. He heard both girls giggle as they held out their hands to him. He reached up, knowing in his heart something wonderful was about to happen, and took their hands in his.
“Have they identified the man yet?” asked the reporter.
“Yes, his name was Roy Sternman. He was the husband and father of the wife and two daughters killed in that home invasion ten years ago. He arrived at his home just as the killers were leaving. They shot him in the head, but he survived. The doctors said there was some brain damage, and thought the loss of his family plus the damage to his brain pushed him over the edge. He disappeared not long after, and hadn’t been seen since. He evidently passed away in his sleep. One of the policemen, who knew his routine, reported not seeing him for a week.
One of the merchants who left him food knew about where he stayed, so we sent a team out looking and found him in a hidden room on the second floor of an old abandoned building. The smell led us there. We found his old drivers license with him, and, after checking it out, figured out who he was. We checked his finances and found he was well off, but never used any of it. We’ll bury him next to his wife and daughters. A sad ending to a sad life. Sometimes life just sucks.”