A Short Story
In Harlem it was Hispanic and Caribbean kids, their faces smiling broadly on an unusually hot September afternoon spent playing in the spray of taxi-cab yellow fire hydrants. In Vancouver there were the prostitutes, tears streaming down their chins and breasts, clutching red roses, the gifts of young do-gooders. Prints from a never-sleeping city in the far east, like stones and glass blocks stacked high and wide, adorned with year-round festive lights, crowns and jewels advertising and flashing in the Hong Kong midnight. In Tehran, the eyes peering out into the lens of my Canon from blackened veiled faces, some content, some afraid, some defiant.
Film strips impregnated with moments, memories and faces. My world has become infinitely smaller recently, confined to the threadbare burgundy, lumpy and stained navy, new and firm brown sofas in the lives and comfort of the moments, memories and homes of friends.
It’s the catch-22 of being a freelance photojournalist: needing the funds to travel to make the money to do what you really love over and over again. It was all coming along so well when my means to travel hung a sign on its door – ‘Shop for Sale’. More boards would inevitably come to hide the vacated face of a once thriving local family food shop, and the only decent one around selling things made by the grandmotherly woman at the back rather than a factory machine in nameless Europe. Yet another victim of the economy-bites-the-dust on a nondescript East London street losing it’s identity and history.
And my own history and identity – my work, my own tangible scraps of memories, hopes, dreams and passions – boxed up and kept for a time we’re all hoping and praying for. Kept in a climate-controlled aluminium-clad box for as long as the royalties will keep on paying.
It’s been two months of shuffling around friends’ living rooms, always trying not to wear my welcome thin. I spend most of my days in libraries or wandering up those boarded-up streets snapping photos of my urban nightmare. But looking out the window here and seeing the flowers cropping up, I’m really thankful it’s spring. I can’t imagine hauling my one rucksack through the London winter.
I’ve never been in one place long but always had a place to return to. I use to get my sense of who I was from my freedom to keep moving. Now, that feeling has been obliterated by my inability to just stay in one place. I feel like the recently unemployed city businessman walking around the streets near Bank, suited and carrying a case but with no real destination or purpose. Just going through the motions of existing and trying not to forget what it means to be alive.
Coming here earlier today a homeless guy stopped me to ask for some change. He’d seen my camera and must’ve assumed I was a tourist or had money of some sort. He said that he’d worked for a local paper in his hometown up north taking photos until it went bust. I wonder if that’s how he ended up wearing mismatched and frayed gloves, wrapped in a dirty blanket, sitting on top of a tired sleeping bag pan-handling at Euston. Surely a guy like that could do some work for the Big Issue or something, right?
I’m clean, not begging, living on the edge but not on the street. The world doesn’t know that all I lay claim to is tucked away in storage or in my rucksack. I wonder if people looked into my eyes like those veiled eyes in Tehran, would they see what is otherwise hidden from plain sight? Would they give a shit? Or will I just end up moving from hostel to hostel for the rest of my life or as one of these nameless inconvenient tramps passed up by thousands of high and mighty Londoners? Turns out I’m the poster boy of homeless London after all.
For more info on the hidden homeless see http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/about-hidden-homelessness.html. BBC Three is currently recruiting for people to contribute towards a new documentary on the issue of sofa surfing so stay tuned for that to come out (https://www.facebook.com/groups/346516022042076/).