Maeve felt the cool of the morning penetrate the thick downy jacket she wore and her jeans did even less to keep her warm. She thought back to a moment similar to this nearly a year ago. The fresh morning air had a different effect on her then and she reflected on the irony that while she was poorer she was also warmer, better prepared for the cold. Maeve was less accustomed to the bitter dawn having lived within the four walls of a house for the last 11 months rather than the substandard shelter of an alley or a shop front. She remembered the day that had changed her life entirely.
The city had been empty and felt clean with a morning dew. The dirt was still on the sidewalk, gum was still plastered to the bins in poor attempts to discard it and rats plagued the gutters and back streets feasting on the ample scraps left by restaurants and diners alike. Still, the city was cleaner, emptier.
Maeve had loved the mornings even then. Being awake when the world was asleep, before even the sun rose from the skyline was an honour. The rising morning light drove away the fear and unknown of the night but wasn't enough to entice the people who worked, lived in and breathed in the city. It wasn't that she didn't like it when the city throbbed with life but she liked not being invisible and the world felt less polluted when you could see and hear everything. Maeve had lived on the streets her whole life, having endured a terrible and unstable childhood in and out of foster care she had fled that life and had found a small but trustworthy homeless neighbourhood to provide her with the solidarity and comforts of a community. She loved the people she had met along the way but something deep in her heart craved a home, a space of her own. Something with enough room for herself and Henry the alley cat that kept her company during the night. She wondered if they were truly different from all those people in their warm homes. She wondered if they really lived, if they ever saw the sun rise, listened to the birds, felt the rain wash away their sins. Maeve pondered over how wonderful her life was as she counted out enough change for a small coffee from the convenience store across the road and she laughed audibly at the poetic justice of it all. Henry the cat scampered off offended by the noise and she bid him well, she knew he would slink off to an alleyway and return tonight. She felt comfortable leaving her things behind, she had long ago released herself of the need for possessions and had nothing worth stealing that she couldn't take with her person. And so she left. The coffee was hot and her fingers burned just holding it, she didn't like the fact that it drove away the calming cool of the dawn but she preferred to buy it before the judgement of the occupants of the city started. She crossed the road without waiting for the lights, cars were few and far between and she was eager to get back to her book, despite having read it a thousand times. When she arrived however she saw slightly hidden under her belongings a careworn envelope stuffed and barely sealed. It had passed through many hands and Maeve's curiosity was ignited. She bent down to pick it up placing the piping hot coffee on the ground next to her makeshift pillow. Opening the envelope where she stood she was confronted by a wad of cash. Maeve hadn’t seen half that much money before. She hardly knew what to do, surely it wasn’t meant for her. She looked around desperately for whoever may have dropped it. There wasn’t a soul in sight. Maeve heard rustling behind her and dropped the wad on the ground raising her hands in the air, she was on high alert but it was just a piece of rubbish drifting in the wind. For the first time she realised there was a small neat block writing on a piece of paper “this is not a hoax, this envelope contains a personal loan of $20000, make something of yourself”, this was her chance to find out what it was really like to live in a home, to be one of those people she mused about.
Maeve wasn’t religious but occasionally attended one of the weekday services at the local parish. Not many people went there anymore, and she felt bad for the small church. She liked the atmosphere and Father John was a nice sort of man who made her feel welcome. He had very liberal views that didn’t always align with the church but she supposed no one corrected him because he posed no threat in this small parish that hardly anyone attended. Many a cold night had been spent there and many a warm meal or a comforting friend had she found within its walls. Maeve was determined to be sensible with the money as she intended to repay the loan in full when the time came. However she withdrew a few hundred dollars worth of notes and stuffed them into the parish donations box. They fell to the bottom easily and she doubted there was any other money in there. That made her sad but she knew that though they received some, little funding from the church it wasn't enough to cover the charitable work they did. Father John wasn’t in so she thought she might come back later. She sat for a moment in one of the pews, she wasn’t praying, she just needed to compile her thoughts. She needed to find somewhere to live. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a house but if she could rent a flat somewhere she would be content in life. Just having a space to feel safe in was all she needed. A thought crossed her mind and she half ran to the parish bulletin board. Maeve had never seen the ad before but something told her to look for it. It was a simple piece of paper folded once so it didn’t intrude upon the board's ample space, it said in beautiful cursive that had all the marks of being written with arthritic hands “Room to rent, I am looking for a tidy tenant for the upper level of my terrace home. Domestic duties will be shared”. Below was a landline number for any inquiries. Maeve removed the paper and set off for the next phone booth, she knew she had enough coins to call. The phone dialled twice and was picked up by an elderly woman “Hello this is Dorothy” the voice quivered.
“Hi Dorothy my name is Maeve, I’m responding to your message on the St Paul’s Parish bulletin board”. She let her message sink in, she knew she had spoken much too fast and was prepared to repeat herself when Dorothy said “oh lord I nearly forgot about that”, Maeve's heart sank and she said with obvious anxiety in her tone “is the room still available?”.
“Oh yes” Dorothy replied. “I haven’t been up there for a while but my son has set it up with a bed and a cupboard, are you interested”. Maeve was more than interested; she was desperate.
“Can we meet today?”
“Of course, does 11:30 suit you?”
Maeve said it suited her well, it would give her time to buy a new outfit, shower at the local shelter and buy herself a hot breakfast. Dorothy rattled off the address very specifically and Maeve scrambled for a pen in the phone booth, thankfully one had been left there “Sorry could you repeat that” she said. The house was in a decent part of town, once known for being rough it had always been middle class but it was central and she was excited at the prospect of a bed and a window and even a garden bed to do something with. She looked at the clock above city hall, she had just over five hours to indulge herself she would buy two outfits to wear to a job interview and the home inspection. Her thoughts drifted to a beautiful red vintage style bike she had seen a few months back. A bike was sensible and she liked the idea of being out and feeling the world on her skin, she would also buy herself the bike.
In 11 months she had found a good job in a small store in the city, she wondered if anyone recognised her from the street and often thought someone did and held it against her but she and Henry had food every night and a warm bed. They even had a TV but that stayed off most of the time and they just watched the world go by outside their window. One evening a few months back Maeve had returned from work to find that Dorothy had placed her mail at the foot of the stair landing. It was just a few bills and a small black book. Dorothy called out “Maeve, is that you?” in a startled voice. Maeve replied in the affirmative and heard Dorothy call “I’ve placed your mail on the landing, there’s an odd book, I couldn’t make sense of it so I assumed it might be yours?” Maeve returned in a cloud of confusion “Thanks Dot, yeah it’s from an old friend, I think” Before she even picked it up she could see that many of the pages had been torn out. She opened it on the first page and was shocked to see her own address. As she flicked through the other pages left in the book she saw nothing but her address and a different address on each page. Maeve couldn’t find any meaning. She resolved to take her bike around that night to see what was waiting at the next address.
She had watched the house she stood in front of for a few weeks now. Nothing crazy ever happened, no screaming, no smashing, no one visited, the TV was always on faintly. The house only seemed to have one lonely occupant and Maeve had never seen them. Maeve wanted badly to reach out and make sure that they were okay but she knew that wasn’t her job. On the first day she had come to watch she had pondered what the meaning of all the secrecy could be and what she was expected to do here. As she approached the dilapidated house she had realised that she was there to pass on the next $20,000. It was time to repay her debt and she was ready; she thanked her foresight to be frugal. She knew she had to leave it anonymously and some months later she would deliver the second, the thinning black book minus one address. She hoped it hadn’t been too hard for her predecessor to find her. Either way they had. She pulled the small black book from the pocket of her jacket and checked one last time 12 Gloucester St, Matraville. No names, no stories, just an address. Nodding once to herself she slipped the thinning book back into her jacket and withdrew a careworn envelope thick with money. It was barely sealed but it contained the sum of $20,000 and a small hand written note in neat, block writing. She slid it into the mailbox, mounted her bike and rode off thinking of a warm breakfast, she would go to church tonight, just to see how everyone was.