My back was in pain, eased briefly propped up against the side of Burger King; Margaret one side, Geoff the other. The three of us tended to stay close these days; safety in numbers was important, especially after Marg was attacked. We were always the targets of abuse; living on the streets wasn’t easy, but things were getting steadily worse. At times we felt almost hunted, like animals, driven from where we sat, day after day, trying to survive.
Marg was walking past a group of lads, early one Sunday morning. They were all heavily intoxicated, jostling each other; goading, shouting, gesturing; throwing beer cans and debris from the side of the road, towards anyone who passed by. Most people simply crossed over to the other side of the road, avoiding confrontation, keeping their heads down, not making eye contact. Marg was pulling a large shopping trolley, full of the last vestiges of her life, not ideal for retreating; she would have to make the best of a bad situation. Clothes, a sleeping bag, suitcase, a few old photographs and sitting right on the top, Jerry her little Yorkshire Terrier, who had been with her for ten years, through good times and bad; these were her most prized possessions. In the back of the rusting, old cart, was a bag of dog food, a large sack, far too heavy for Margaret to carry on her own. She had managed to save enough small change, begging outside Embankment, her usual patch, making sure Jerry was alright. She could fend for herself, Jerry couldn’t!
Margaret pulled the hood of her grey duffle coat over her head, closing the nape tightly around her neck, holding the opening shut with her hand. The jacket, frayed, adorned with holes, no longer had any buttons, the zip had long since broken and she had lost the piece of string, that usually held it together. Confronted by a gang of young lads, unable to drag her haul across the busy road, she just hoped to avoid an altercation. Just one of the daily hazards, living on the streets!
Panting with fear, perspiring from her brow, she started to speed up, walking faster as she approached the drunken group. One of the wheels on the carriage, was playing up, it had a life of its own, rotating, wobbling uncontrollably in circles, pulling it to one side, making her journey even harder. The more it pushed her into the curb, the harder she fought, pulling it back towards the pavement. Her anxiety was beginning to get the better of her; starting to panic, she slipped on the side walk as the cart veered off course. Knocking her hip, she stumbled, her knee giving way; Marg only just managed to save the contents from spilling into the road.
As Margaret buckled, Jerry jumped off his vantage point, running around her legs, barking, trying to help, but making things worse. The group of lads pushed aggressively past, each one kicking the trolley in turn. Staggering at the rear, a short young man stopped in his tracks, swaying from side to side, pointing his finger at Margaret; laughing loudly, grinding his teeth. Spitting into her face, he poured an open can of beer over the top of her coat. All the while, she faced downwards, not looking up; she had been here before and knew just what to do. he grabbed her hood, roughly pulling her head backwards, exposing her traumatised face, Jerry barking, growling around his feet. Without a second thought he finished emptying the contents of the can over Margaret’s hair, crushing it into her forehead. Then he turned his attention to Jerry, snarling back at the scared dog, kicking him into the middle of the busy thoroughfare, right in the path of oncoming traffic. Limping and yelping, the little Yorkie managed to scramble over to the other side of the road, narrowly missing vehicle after vehicle, leaving Margaret, kneeling on the floor.
Covered in stale beer, Margaret fell forwards, unable to see where she was going; with a thud the trolley collapsed on top of her legs. Stunned, she laid there, in shock and pain, kicked in the head and spat on, one last time. She could hear Jerry calling for her, from the other side of the street; agonised, she tried to get up, only to fall back down under the weight of the cart. Everything went black as her eyes rolled to the back of her head. Jerry’s bark began to dwindle away; the sound of a Royal Mail delivery truck, breaking heavily, as it approached the scene, barely audible; the light of the morning faded to dark as Margaret closed her eyes!