London is filled with many, many beggars.
So I listened to the haggard female hanging at this particular bus stop. Always looking at people and the pigeons that hovered above the opposite shops. Sometimes the birds darted down to share leftovers of her food. Bread crumbs. Biscuits. Fruits. Cakes.
She would also stare into space and the far, far distance.
Every human being has a story.
Aged 12 all she wanted was death. Her only “hope” came after running away from home and meeting a pimp she now calls “Mr Satan”.
“Back then he was Mr Jesus. My saviour. Taught me everything. What does a 12-year-old girl know? Not much. But I understood pain and terror from my parents. And Tony was my salvation. He cuddled and fondled and fed and held me like a baby, and also like a woman. I had to grow up fast. By the time I was 15 I was his shop and factory. Three, four times a week he would send me to sleep with men (loud cough). Women too. I wasn’t that bad looking, right? (you quickly remind her she is still good looking)…by age 15 I was a total pro. I had money. I had my own place. Plus bruises and scars. Beatings. It was a rough life. Also sweet. I can’t deny it was better than being with those devils called parents. Sometimes I watched girls of my age, returning and going to school in clean uniforms and books and nice hair. I thought, what is wrong with me? Anyway, life slogged on. Can I have another cup of hot chocolate please. No, no sugar please...”
These tales were told in bits. Each time I came here to wait for the bus she would add more parts, and fill the whole story line.
I watched her.
Staring into oblivion.
She did not flinch, did not shudder, did not twitch. The only thing that made her flinch, shudder, twitch was spiders.
Spiders have littered our planet for millions of years.
A cat that strolled by, quickly rushing to her. She cuddled and caressed the cat.
Smiling, (two upper teeth were missing), she shouted: “Her name is Frances! She can relate to me. I am sure we were family in past life. We meet again, dear Frances!”
Frances purred and nuzzled herself around the woman.
“Get me a cushion next time you come here, please?” She requested when it was raining and cold.
Adding: “ Any size. Please. It’s for Frances. I know her owner is unwell. I have seen him a few times. Old guy. Probably in his 80s. I think he has Covid. So if he goes to hospital and doesn’t come back then Frances will have no home like me. She will become an orphan, and there you go, Frances. Old girl. You will stay with Naomi.”
“Want to eat something, Naomi?”
Londoners always say “darling”, but that does not mean anything in case you were wondering. “I did not tell you I am diabetic...it is getting worse. I don’t even know what to eat.”
As she spoke and massaged the feline, questions roved through my mind. Like, where did she sleep? What about toilets? Any friends? The timetable said the bus would be here in four minutes.
Time to go. Time to...
She let out a big, loud, cough. A cough that sounded like a stone splashing in mud. Never spat though. Her throat was like a store of phlegm. Punched by car fumes and smoke slithering through her nostrils and mouth as she sat here. Every. Single. Day.
“Naomi,” I suddenly said. “You mind telling me something?”
She coughed heavily.
“Not at all, darling. People always ask me questions.”
That was encouraging. “If you have to go to the toilet. Or do women stuff....(I winked)...where do you have the privacy at THAT TIME of the month?”
She started crying.
Sobs that were heavy and uncomfortable. Tears. Bloodshot eyes. She rocked and trembled like a tree in a hurricane.
I was reminded of those village girls that Tanzanian MP Upendo Furaha Peneza campaigned for in 2018. Rural African girls who miss school for a week (every month) because they cannot afford sanitary towels.
Naomi the London beggar wept: “I go to that church over there. They let me use their premises. But sometime there is this homeless bloke... who is so dangerous...It’s not easy being a woman with no money, house, family...not easy!”
Was tough listening. Not easy writing either. But the chief duty of we authors and reporters is to document life.