I saw him only last week, through triangles of bunting, triangles like the patterned patches Mum sewed on my jeans to cover-up rips. He looked straight at me; his gaze pierced balloon-bouquets and wanton streamers to reach me—I see you looking—and he stripped me naked—of my Pride, of my uniform. I saw him that day, on the ground, when the party bokeh-blurred, when clouds, curious, watched their rainbows extend down to join the heady revelry. Hope painted the canvas of celebration, a kaleidoscope of jubilation. Colours flashed in abundance, dizzying with their final release at this long-awaited party. Sequinned harlequins waved painted nails above couples making out, above gyrating hips of dancers lost in music. I asked him then, ‘are you here for the parade?’ He answered, ‘parade?’ I pass his way every day now, but I don’t know why exactly.
Today I see him in the usual place outside the department store. He sits low. The ground is as low as he can go. Only a layer of cardboard separates him from unyielding grey concrete. You wouldn’t gauge his age; resignation etched its passage onto his skin and erased his face—cold has removed both human colour from his cheeks, and softness from his now rigid posture. An unkempt beard affords him further anonymity—not by design, yet not unwelcome. Biscuit-coloured clothes render him almost invisible. Almost. A well-worn turtleneck sweater, cargo pants, and scuffed desert boots suggest a past inclination for style. Over the top he wears an incongruous, oversized khaki jacket—perhaps donated by a well-meaning someone. He circles an arm around his knees, drawn up to his chin to make him smaller, warmer. He is a statue, hunched over and enclosed in himself, avoiding eye contact. Just one spindly arm extends out and hovers, open-palmed, over an empty plastic cup. A bright red triangle, remnant of bunting, sticks like decoupage to the sidewalk beside him. Several used cups litter the area around where he sits—tokens of plastic altruism. He’d already drunk the coffees; two sugars and splash of ego thank you very much. But enough now, he needs to pee. It is too public outside this store, but I suspect, in time, he won’t care. For now, he contemplates rising from his spot. I watch as he attempts to haul himself up and collapses, ready to try again. Passers-by trot along, their animated chatter fuelling them as their smiles accessorize their business suits. A middle-aged man with silver hair leaves the store. A young lady in Jimmy Choos links his right arm, which he attempts to hold steady as he balances a plastic coffee cup in his hand. The weight of several bags of purchases pulls his other arm down. Laughter garnishes the couple’s chat like the fairy lights sprinkled amongst the trees on the shopping boulevard. He breaks for a moment to address the cardboard man and place the coffee by his side. ‘There you go, warm yourself up mate.’ Then he returns his attention to his companion, who is busy tapping away on her phone, her lips grinning and moving.
‘Fuck off.’ The words are barely audible yet they float up to laughing man and linger, suspended above the hustle and chatter of the busy street. The man pauses before rotating his head, robotlike, back towards cardboard man. ‘Excuse me?’ The slumped figure below him stares, glassy-eyed, beyond the coffee-giver’s legs, but says nothing. ‘Well—how bloody un-grate-ful.’ Coffee pools on the pavement beside the knocked-over cup. Concrete cracks drink up hot, milky latte, sucking it greedily into the ground, to where hell lies below. Laughing man narrows his eyes and his nostrils flare. He screws up his face and stoops, drawing his face towards cardboard man—but not too close. ‘What did you say to me, loser?’ he hisses. Cardboard man inches his head round to face him. ‘How do you know,’ he begins, his voice pained, like rough gravel, ‘that you haven’t just bought coffee for a murderer?’ From where I stand, I learn how even dead eyes can pierce skin. Laughing man starts, almost losing his balance, his mouth open. The young lady shoots a fleeting glance at the scene but then continues to tap faster on her phone behind him. I grip the book I had bought for cardboard man—his favourite author is Vikram Seth—and my knuckles turn white. He's in no mood for reading today. His name is Ross, by the way.
‘Are you? Have you—?’ laughing man is not laughing now. ‘No,’ cardboard man replies; looks away again, but not before I notice wet in his eyes. A pool of piss, yellow and acrid, follows the latte down the cracks into the same hell.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thank you for reading my piece, I really appreciate it. If you would like to read more poetry, you might like:
Runner-up in the ‘From Across the Room’ challenge:
About the Creator
Inhaling life, exhaling stories, poetry, prose, flash or fusions. An imperfect perfectionist who writes and recycles words. I write because I love how it feels to make ink patterns & form words, like pictures, on a page.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Well-written, I love the shifts in focus from the whole setting and back to the man
I'm glad I got to read this, brilliant.
Wow. That was incredible. Very well done.
This was amazing!