It was our first flat together; up until now we had been sleeping in shop doorways, a derelict caravan and even a tent in ‘Old Tally Woods’. This had gone on for six months. We had shivered in the winter snow, showered no more and battled against officials, trying to find somewhere to live. We didn’t want a mansion, we just wanted a place to call our own, a roof over our heads and to wake up one day, not feeling damp and wet from the elements outside.
We walked the streets during the day, trying to keep warm, until the sunlight faded and we could find a quiet doorway to lay our heads for the night. The bright lights of the city, were always on high beam. A dark corner in the capital was never dark for long. By the time we closed our eyes, the sun came up; we blinked painfully into another day, no different from the one that had gone before. Stumbling through the streets of London was a journey we made with circadian familiarity; like the commuter, travelling to work, headphones tightly pushed into his ear, blocking out the unwanted noise of the morning traffic; scarf pulled firmly around his neck, unaware, oblivious to everything going on around him; we also trudged, beleaguered, tired, warn, marching the same route day in and day out. There was no warm office at the end of our course, our trek would never end: We remained stoical in the face of adversity, fighting to remain together, despite what was thrown our way. It couldn’t get much harder.
The weekends were always the worst. The city that never slept, became more vibrant and dangerous than usual. It was Saturday; we had found a place under the arches near Waterloo Bridge, right at the end, on the corner. A street lamp shone unabated into the space, a little over two meters long; it was late, we were both exhausted and the rain was beginning to fall. Megan cleared away the debris from the day and we laid down the single sleeping bag we both shared. It kept us tightly together, safe and secure; our body heat keeping us as warm as possible throughout the challenging night ahead. We had learned a lot about endurance, over the last few months; survival was important, not for us as individuals, but for us as a couple, sharing what little we had left; dreaming, hoping and preying that this wasn’t our lot. There had to be light at the end of this tunnel!
The street light under which we slept, illuminated the poverty spread out before our eyes! Megan had finally fallen asleep; not wanting to wake her, I moved slightly to one side, so she could at least have a night of undisturbed sleep. For safety, I always made her sleep on the inside, a lesson tragically learned! I lifted my head; societies unfortunate, unseen and forgotten hero’s of the night; huddled together in this frightening place. Safety in numbers was the key to staying alive another day. I sat there, back perched against the Victorian wall behind; shook my head, still not believing how our life together had come to this; angry that Magan had to suffer the indignity of a life on the streets, when she deserved far more, than I could give her. These were the times I thought for us both. Every night, I remained awake and vigilant as Megan slept, keeping watch, protecting the one I loved from the ravages around us. I normally managed to grab an hours rest, just as the sun came up. It wasn’t a lot, I grant you, but it was enough, to ensure Magan slept as soundly as she could.
This had gone on for a few months; Magan and I had suffered the hard way. A few weeks before, we had found somewhere to sleep, near a restaurant, in the city. It wasn’t ideal, people were passing by all night; shouting, screaming, drunk and abusive. We had both just fallen asleep, when I felt an excruciating pain in my stomach; it happened again, and again. I was so tired, I just didn’t want to get up. Suddenly, shattered glass and my head felt like it would explode, as blood started to pour from my brow. Blearily, confused unable to focus directly, I opened my eyes, as best I could, blood trickling into the sockets, stinging, penetrating, burning; before me, a group of young lads, dressed for a night out. Hands punching the air, fists cascading towards my face, another bottle swiped across my head; all the while, I tried to protect Megan from these delinquents out for a fight. She woke up, suddenly, screamed in the middle of a nightmare, startled the bottle wielding hooligans, ran into the night. I collapsed, unaware of what happened next, waking up in a hospital bed, Megan clasping my hand tightly. I saw the outline of a doctor speaking to a nurse, stood in front of my bed; I heard no sound, and gently passed out again.
I had no idea how long I slept. When I awoke, Magan was still there; she had fallen asleep on my chest. I felt the discomfort in my head even more than before, The pain ran from my forehead, down my jaw and across my shoulders. Gently, not wanting to wake up Magan, I lifted my head. The dizziness was overwhelming, as I steadied myself against the back of the bed. It took a while to wake up properly and get my bearings. The curtain was drawn around the cubicle; I could hear voices outside, then the muffled screeching of a radio, a police radio. By now Magan was awake and we both listened to the conversation outside.
They could find somewhere safe for Magan, in a women’s shelter, but nowhere for me. I would have to remain on the streets. We looked at each other; I knew there was no point, even suggesting Megan go into accommodation without me. She could survive on the streets, but not with a broken heart. We had never left each others side and didn’t intend to now. Eventually, the conversation ended and footsteps moved away from the bed. It was our chance to leave. Megan helped me dress in what clothes I had on, when I was brought into St Mary’s; the sleeping bag and belongings, our life left behind as the ambulance arrived to take me to hospital: while nobody was aware and the hospital staff were busy, we hurriedly left.
So here we are today, our first home together. After months braving the city streets, sleepless nights, abuse and lack of direction. Warm and content, in a flat far away from the city. Can we finally begin our life together, knowing that we now have a future? How we got here, was a journey in itself, one for another day. The occasions we spend battling, suffering through no fault of our own and trying to survive in an unforgiving world are the times, we will always look back on, learning the lessons needed to keep pushing us forward. I don’t regret anything; the streets showed me the way to a better life!