I had just finished work. It was late, and I was feeling shattered to say the least. It was around 7:30 pm and I had a good fifteen to twenty-minute walk to the nearest train station in order to get my train home.
Work had been a very forgettable day for me, it was just a sequence of familiar events and very predictable behaviours. Winter had certainly arrived, no mistake. For it was bitterly cold today. ‘Give me sunshine any day of the week I say.’ Long dark nights, grey wet days really were not my idea of relaxing. I love fresh snow though, there’s nothing like it. That crisp white that dazzles your eyes when you first see it and the silence or stillness you experience, like God had laid the most perfect white blanket down over natures sound outside. I absolutely love it…….until the next day. You know, the day after? When everyone’s foot prints merge into solid, smooth compacted flatten tracks, and roads disguise sheets of shear ice made from the tyre trails of cars frozen in time over night into a dirty muddy glacial death trap!
I had worn my thickest coat, and a long thick woolly scarf that I had purposely wrapped a number of times around my neck, to make sure no cold would reach my neck. It covered my face up to my nose. My laptop bag hung from my shoulder and I held the strap securely with my left hand as I focused on making my way home, walking briskly. The wind blew harshly, and when it did, it felt like the temperature dropped even further around my head. It was so icy, too cold for snow.
I made my way along the busy pavement. While the traffic rushed along the road besides me. Cars, buses, taxis even cyclists. People rushing one way or another, as they made their way home or to their unknown destinations.
In summer this area was so different. It would be alive with social activity – the drinking places would be filled with people sitting or standing outside, chatting animatedly, laughing and drinking with their friends and work colleagues from the surrounding businesses. But now, everyone just wanted to get home.
There was a small park ahead of me that had a pathway which lead to the tube station. I was too cold to walk the twenty minutes or so to get my train, so I decided to hop on the underground instead in order to reach the train station. It wouldn’t be quicker, but it certainly would be warmer. As I came closer I could see one or two homeless people sitting on the ground, one had a coffee cup between his hands. It was hot and the heat was something to hold onto in this weather. The other was selling a homeless magazine to the passers-by. But everyone was in to much of rush from what I could see. However, one person grab my attention even more. It was a woman, and as I got nearer I could tell she was not a young woman. She looked around 65 years old with thin grey hair down to her shoulders. No one was stopping or even paying any of the homeless any attention. She was the only women and all she was doing was just sitting on the edge of the path on the ground with her head bound and shaking. No one stopped, no one said a word, It was like no one saw her, she didn’t exist. People were rushing past with hot Costa Coffees in their hands or like me carrying their laptop cases and heavy bags. But no one lost a beat in their pace or lessened a stride in their step, as they focused a head in their own world. She wore the most inadequate coat. It was more a coat for an Autumn evening than a bitterly cold winters day like today. Why was she there?
“Are you ok?” I said as I hovered over her.Dumb question I know but I couldn’t think how else to engage with her. She had no gloves and I could clearly see how much she was shaking as I stood near her. She was absolutely pale.
“She looked up at me and said “I’m ok, I’ll be fine.” No you bloody well, wont I thought to myself, who you kidding?
“How long have you been sitting there?”
“A while, a while” she said softly. her voice sounded a bit husky.
“Its freezing and your shivering, are you staying at a shelter?” I asked, she should not be there I thought to myself.
Then I could see the beginning of tears as she explained she had absolutely no money. Not even money for a hot drink. She was in a hostel but left because she didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t the best of hostels.
This was no place for anyone, let alone a women to be on her own either.
“Is there nowhere else you could go?”
“yes, but its much further away and I cannot get their,” Her distress even became more evident as she spoke more and more.
“Have you eaten?” “No, not since yesterday,” she replied
“ok.” I said “come with me?”
Her face was startled, I could tell she was totally bemused by my statement. “lets go and get a hot drink and something to eat?”
“No, no, no I don’t want to trouble you?” “Its fine I said, it was my idea,”
She relented with her protests and attempted to get up, I could see she was frail but the cold had also gotten to her, so I gave her my hand to hold onto as she got up. “you’re so kind, thank you, thank you. She continued.
I knew the area pretty well and knew there were a number of eating places in the train station including a cafeteria, so I headed in that direction. The windows were totally opaque with condensation, so I pushed the door as I entered. It felt so inviting and warm as we entered and I could see it was very busy. Can I help you madam? “Gosh I thought to myself you’re keen!” “Yes a table for two please” I said as I smiled” back in return. “ok follow me” he said as he swiftly turned on his heels and made directly to the far corner of the cafe to a small table that was already laid out for two people. We both sat down and I quickly removed my scarf and placed it on onto my laptop which I had placed on the floor besides me, next to the wall. I even undid my coat. ” How are you I said?” “I’m ok” she was still visibly shaking but she was no longer outside. “Whats your name?” She smiled and said “Margaret, but everyone just calls me Maggy” ” Maggy I said. “Suits you” “what about you, whats your name, me? I answered surprised. “Jacqui”
I picked up the menu and started to read through its content. “Oh I need a Latte for starters!” “How about you?” “Black coffee no sugar” Maggy replied. “what do you want to eat?” She continued to study the menu.
As I considered what to eat I decided to keep the conversation going. ‘Did I detect a bit of an accent Maggy?’ I could swear it was a Liverpool accent but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure so thought I would ask instead of assuming. ‘Ah yes, she said. ‘ I left there many years ago I haven’t been there since my early twenties.’ ‘Really, but your accent is still really strong.’ For the first time I saw the gentlest and smallest smile on her face. It revealed and small dimple to her cheeks. Why did you leave? Work mostly. She replied.
“Can I take your order now please?’ Its was the very keen waiter again.
‘Do you know what you want Maggy?’ I could see her struggling to decide
‘How about the beer battered cod and Chips?’ What will you have she asked?
‘I’m having that myself.’ ‘Ok, if your sure.’ ‘Yes I am.’ ‘Can I have cod and chips twice please?’
and can you do mushy peas with both, please? He then took the menu boards away from us as he left to place our orders.