This imaginary account of homelessness, “Hollow Thoughts”, was written by Emily
Smith, a student in Louth, in response to an assignment just “to imagine it”. We
are most grateful to Emily, her parents, and her teacher Briony McNeilly for permission
to reproduce it here, slightly shortened.
I am a shadow in the city, a small outline of skin and bones. I am invisible to most,
even though I'm visible to all. I've been to places you couldn't even dream about,
and seen more than an ancient man. My life has been scarred by things that I've done,
things that have been done, all out of my control. This is my story.
Do you wake up in the morning warm and cosy, turning off the alarm to enjoy the feeling
of a few more minutes in bed? My mornings couldn't be more different. If the police
don't wake me with a kick to move me on, then the cold, sharp frost obliges, leaving
me stiff to the bone with the biting city winds.
Have you ever gone a day without brushing your teeth? You know, the daily routine
of cleaning your teeth in the morning so they are sparkling for the day that lies
ahead. Imagine the feeling if you hadn't brushed your teeth for weeks. The shiny
smooth finish as you run your tongue along is a thing of the past. The thick layer
of plaque that has built up and the stench of your breath make you want to throw
up from the very lining of your stomach. The smell of your unwashed body churns your
senses every second of every day and there is nothing you can do about it. The smell
of flesh, sick and sewage trails behind me. And, when you catch a glimpse of yourself
in a shop window and have to take a second look, you mistake yourself for an old
crone, not an eighteen-year-old.
Walking along never-ending streets in the cool, early hours of the morning, I look
for somewhere to sit out of the way and waste the hours, watching people rushing
around, performing their daily chores and business. I gaze into a shop and see young,
model-like girls trying new clothes on. The perfect cloth complements their perfect
figures. Streamlined hair, smooth, silky and never out of place. The hair I should
have... the hair I want to have instead of this mop that has a mind of its own. My
only “friends” who visit regularly, crawling around and irritating my scalp, are
itching away, whole neighbourhoods of them. I feel them moving around, sucking on
my blood as I long to be normal. At least they are warm and have something to eat.
If I caught a fatal disease, life might improve. I've seen the leaflets with help-lines.
You're given a “friend” to support you, provided with accommodation, food, kindness
and warmth — all the things that are missing in my life. I watch an elderly couple
walking arm in arm. What's the point, I ask myself? What's the point in growing old
if there is no one to grow old with? I slump against the old railway bridge wall
and daydream about the quality of my life with HIV. I think about the physical pain,
but think that it can be nothing compared with the mental torture of my life now.
I dream about being tucked up in white, fresh smelling hospital sheets, surrounded
by caring nurses— angels, I think people call them. I shiver and open my eyes. It's
getting dark. My body aches with hunger and I know I'm late for the refuge. I dash
through quiet streets. I've missed the rush hour. That's a bad sign.
The queue at the soup kitchen window tells me that this is not good . The shake of
a head tells me the news I dread - “no room at the inn tonight”. Even Jesus was offered
a warm, dry stable. Not me. I queue for my soup and return to my alleyway. I collect
empty wooden pallets which give me a seat off the ground and a little warmth from
the small fire I build.
I close my eyes and feel the fading heat against my hands and dream. No, not dream,
I pray. Dear God, please bless me with AIDS. Let me experience a short life with
comfort, kindness, support and death surrounded by friends.