I am running, escaping from the horror
that I have left behind. There is a monster in my house, a monster covered in
blood, with fangs and claws ready to bite and to kill. I run through the empty
suburban streets not daring to look around, or to stop, and now behind me I can
hear his footsteps, purposeful and unrelenting.
I wake to the stench of piss; mine or
somebody elses? For a moment I am dazed and unsure who I am. Slowly I
look about me; there are two sleeping bodies close by, both covered in
blankets. I think for a moment and start to come round and leave my nightmare
behind. I realise that I am Samuel, although that name doesnt feel right,
but that is what people call me, and that I am in the underground car park
where I live.
My stomach feels empty, but then it
always does, even when I have something to eat I know that I will be hungry
again soon. It is always there at the back of everything else; when I am
talking to people, walking, begging I am always aware how hungry I am. I stir
and start to realise how cold I am, and I rub my arms and legs vigorously under
my blankets, trying to rub some sense into me.
Gripper stirs close by me and mutters
to himself briefly, whilst slightly further away I can hear Johno snoring.
As usual Rosa is up and gone by this time, presumably she is at her usual
spot near Covent Garden begging, stealing or talking to her friends. I
feel a little warmer now and I push off the blankets and shake them before
folding them up and leaving them with the rest of my pitifully few belongings
in a dark corner, and going out to face a new day.
The car park has been my home for,
well since I can remember which is not long actually; it looks and sounds like
a cave, it is grey and green and every sound that we make echoes strangely.
Everywhere there is the smell of petrol and rubber whilst in our dark corner
this is merged with the odour of sweat and sick. Even this early in the morning
there are a few cars above us, but none will venture down here until later when
the rest of the car park is full. I do not remember even how I found this
place; one morning I awoke and realised that I had been here awhile and I have
gradually come to accept this place as my home.
Rosa and Johno have been here the
longest, though both are vague as to how long that is, but then time does not
mean much when you are on the streets. Recently Gripper joined us, an older man
who I am very fearful for, he is so vulnerable and frail and spends much of his
time drinking any form of alcohol that he can get his hands on. I am sure
that he will die soon, and I hope that I do not wake to find him stiff, perhaps
choked on his own vomit. Occasionally I see these, my companions when I am out
and about in London, particularly Rosa and then we talk, but most days I only
see them late at night when we chat between snatches of sleep.
Before I set out I make sure I have my
book with me, tucked into the pocket of my big army coat that someone gave to
me. The book is John Betjemans collected poems, a hardback edition which
I try to keep as neat as possible and is the most precious thing that I own. I
dont know why I have it, but it has always been with me, and I seem to
know the poems off by heart so that when I start to read one it as if I am
reciting something from memory. The poems conjure up a different world;
churches and guilt, wealth and Oxford, but somehow this consoles me, as if
there is something better out there just waiting for me.
It is cold and I just keep walking.
Once out on the street and away from the car park I try not to retrace my
previous journeys, that would be foolish, and London is a large city and there
are plenty of new places to go and to beg. My shoes are the worst thing; they
look quite chic, well they did once, but they are now old and very
uncomfortable so that I stumble along in agony, an agony almost as strong as my
hunger. The shoes offer no protection when I walk through puddles or in the
mud, so that when I get back at night my socks are wet and stained with dirt
I like to walk by the Thames and look
out along the river, imagining what is out there. I want to leave London, leave
England, get on a boat, and travel to some distant country but I just
dont know how I could do this. Gripper lived abroad, he told me of his
travels in the Middle East but when I asked him how he got there he confesses
not to remembering. I imagine guiding a small boat down a river, a boat with a
large white sail, the sun hot and yellow, and there in the distance are
fishermen hauling in fish, absorbed in their work. I am on my own and free so
that if anyone finds me I can sail away to a harbour, safe.
I find a spot and for a few hours try
to beg, but I get no money, not even food. Later I see an older woman wearing
jeans and a duffel coat, she reminds me of someone, although I am not sure who,
but I feel compelled to follow her, and anyway it is something to do. My mind
is full of these half-remembered pictures which send me off here and there
trying to capture what it is that I have forgotten. She walks fast and
determinedly perhaps sensing that she is being followed, but I stay a couple of
paces behind her just wanting a glance of her face which might help me to
discover something. She walks into a small café, and as I have no money
I wait close by, sitting on a damp bench.
When I come to myself it is getting
dark and the café is closed; the woman must have left some time ago. So
often I realise I have been in a trance and that hours have gone by; this is
dangerous, I could be picked up and taken way, unresisting. I find a small park
and sit on another damp bench. I have not eaten all day and so after awhile I
go to a shelter I know where they give you food and dont ask
I sit on my mattress unable to sleep.
Johno has found lots of newspapers and earlier he and Rosa sat reading them. I
grab a pile and start to look through them. Sometimes when I am looking through
old newspapers I see something, there is a flash and my mind briefly works
before closing down again. This time I see a photograph of a woman and a boy,
he looks like me, or as I would have looked three or four years ago. He has a
happy smile and looks well-cared for. I start to feel upset and shut the
newspaper without reading any of it, and then I put it on top of my damp
mattress and soon I fall asleep.
I hear moaning and there is something
in my hand that I cannot let go of. I feel fear inside me, there is somebody
that I am frightened of and I need to hide from him. There is blood on me and I
start to cry. I wake up feeling wet, at first I think it is the damp, but then
I realise that I have wet myself. I take off my trousers and pants and hang
them to dry and then shivering I cover myself in my blanket and watch the
There is a grey car that somebody has
left overnight, I look at it and think of getting in it and driving. But I am
not sure that I can drive. Gripper says that he can drive, that he used to have
a fancy car, and for a moment I have a vision of us driving off somewhere,
beers in our hands and music playing, but I doubt Gripper could drive anywhere
now, that he could not even start a car.
Rosa gets up, slowly and quietly and
disengages herself from Johno. They are lovers although they barely talk to
each other. She told me that she was once a housewife and had a fancy house and
a child, but things went wrong and in the end she just left. Her accent is
Scottish, but she wont tell me where she is from, or why she left. Johnno
looks after her, he used to be in the army and nobody would mess with him. I
hope that if they came for me one night that he would protect me too, but I
dont think that he would. You have to be selfish in this world, and to
look the other way.
Rosa feels my eyes on her and she
gives me a smile. There is still something pretty about her even though she is
skinny and unkempt. I can imagine her wearing expensive clothes and a stylish
haircut, she would be one of the people you see on the street who wont
give you any money because they think you will spend it on drink. There is only
a small space between normal and us, and it is so easy to go from one to the
other, well in the downward direction. Rosa turns her back on me as she alters
her clothing and then I hear her eating something, chocolate probably. She is a
good thief and it is chocolate that she likes to steal. She will leave some for
Johnno, by the time that he eats it she will be long gone.
Kind oer the kinderbank
leans my Myfanway,/ White oer the play-pen the sheen of her dress,/ Fresh
from the bathroom and soft in the nursery/ Soap-scented fingers I long to
I found some money, I dont
remember how. I just became aware that it was in my pocket solid and damp, so I
went to a McDonalds and bought a burger and a milkshake, I ate it so
quickly that I had no time to taste it, but for a moment I felt warm inside and
satisfied. Suddenly there is a man sitting next to me wearing a
Hello friend he says,
you look hungry.
I nod, I distrust all people but
people in uniforms most of all. He looks elderly and he is not a policeman. He
disappears for a few moments and then returns with two packets of fries and
pushes one over to me. I resist for a few moments then start eating.
Have you anywhere to
Where? I just look at
I am sorted I tell him at
last. I must smell terribly, after all I wet my trousers (was it last night?)
and have I been out in the rain all day so that I am very damp. I have been
thrown out of libraries and another McDonalds because of the way I smell,
although the young woman who threw me out of the MacDonalds did give me
some more food and as she did so, kissed me on the cheek.
You look lost the man
I am lost. I dont know who
I am. I have nightmares. Then to change the subject I show him my book of
John Betjeman he smiles
approvingly and then he recites the lines about Joan Hunter Dunn playing tennis
in the noonday sun.
Come with me. The man
tells me. I wont hurt you and I will try to help you, his
eyes are grey and they look kind. I notice that he looks tired and it might for
that reason I say yes. Should I go back to the car park? But the only thing I
need are my clothes which I am wearing and my book. I should say goodbye to
Rosa and the two men, but who knows what time they will be back. I finish off
the fries although I am feeling sick, and then I set off with this man who I
dont know, but who for some reason I trust.
It is the singing that I like best in
chapel on Sundays. Many of the hymns I recognise: Amazing Grace,
Our God reigns, Make me a channel of your peace,
although I am not sure where from, perhaps I used to go to church in my
previous life. I sing along gustily, singing a hymn of thanks to God, but also
to the Salvation Army and to Phil who rescued me and who has given me
I had seen members of the Salvation
Army on occasion when I was on the streets, or half-noticed them, part of the
background to my struggles to survive, but I had not spoken to them as they
made me scared. Phil says that perhaps I was not ready yet and that God
had put him in the right place when I was. When I went back to the chapel with
Phil that night I was shaking, wondering whether I should run back to the car
park, to my friends. I could have easily, but something kept me
They found me an older lady to live
with, Betty Gray and then to my surprise they found me a job working in a
Tesco. I could not remember my name, I was just known as Sam, but Phil sorted
it out; got me a National Insurance number and a surname. I even got a bank
account. I wondered who the real Samuel Phoenix was, perhaps one day he would
come to collect my identity and money, but for the moment that was
The job was not difficult, going
through the frozen food section and deciding what needed replenishing, and then
down into the basement and into the big cavernous freezers and loading boxes of
food onto a big trolley and bringing them up. At first I worked with a lady
called Wendy, a little younger than me and very abrasive, but once they
realised I was doing my job well and was honest they trusted me to work on my
own. The only problem was my lips, the cold in the freezer made them peel, but
I did not mind and one of my colleagues gave me a stick of lip salve which
I did wonder if you would come
back that first day. My manager Liz told me during my first supervision,
many of you brought by the Sally Army dont. She sniffed
slightly, she smelt of mint and was pretty although rather skinny for my taste.
But you have done well, you dont talk much, but that doesnt
matter. Continue to work hard and you could certainly get promoted. Well done
I do not really want promotion, I had
only been there a few months and already I was getting a little bored. Yes I am
proud that I have maintained this job, that I get there on time, have never
phoned in sick, that the other staff regard me as one of themselves, but I miss
the excitement of the streets, and I feel a little trapped, that there is no
way to escape. But this is a start and somewhere I feel safe. But then it might
all come crashing down; some days I walk in and expect them to ask who I am,
what am I doing in the staff area and then to telephone the police, whilst the
staff look at me uncomprehendingly.
In the staff room they question me, so
I put down my book of poetry and try to respond without giving the game away
that I am not one of them.
What football team do you
Forest I reply
surprisingly myself, who are they? Forest? But it seems to pass
Are you from Nottingham
I shake my head, I just like
Then there follows a conversation
about someone called Brian Clough who I gather is their manager and Teddy
Sheringham who plays for them. I just nod and ask questions in turn so that my
ignorance lies hidden. Some of the lads tease me in a good-natured way if
Forest, my team, have done badly, and I try to follow their results so I can
join in these conversations. Perhaps when they play one of the London teams I
will go and watch them, it would be something to tell the lads at
I dream of a woman, an older woman
with thick black hair and glasses. She is holding me, and I can feel her large
breasts against me. Andrew she calls, Andrew, but that
is not my name, and I am feeling smothered and scared. I wake up my heart is
beating fast, and I am hot. I have wet myself again. I slowly get up, unusually
I have remembered where I am. I hope that I have not woken up Betty with my
Betty is a kind woman and one who does
not talk much. We often watch television together barely speaking, and she
never asks me anything more personal than what I fancy for dinner or whether I
am warm enough. I am very grateful for this undemanding love but then I suspect
that she has done this before and knows what people like me want and need. She
has two sons, both of whom visit most weeks and treat me with respect and
kindness when we bump into each other.
I gather up my sheets and pyjamas and
as quietly as I can I walk down the stairs and put them in the washing machine.
The house smells of air freshener and pot pourri; I hope that the smell of
urine and sweat does not spoil things. It is three oclock in the morning
and I stay up reading some John Betjeman.
Now with the bells through the
apple bloom,/ Sunday-ly sounding/ And the prayers of the nuns in their chapel
gloom/ Us all surrounding.
Later I put on the washing and then
have a shower. I eat some toast and go to work, just another man in the South
London suburbs on his way to earn his crust.
Do you want us to get in touch
with your parents?
Phil is in his office sitting in front
of an overloaded desk, he looks as he usually does, tired as if almost
overwhelmed with all the misery that he sees around him.
No I tell him. When I
think of parents nothing comes up. Are they somewhere in Nottingham? But I have
no desire to see them. I shiver slightly and blackness swoops down upon
It is okay says Phil,
dont cry. And he finds me a cup of tea, strong and
There is a service every Sunday
morning in the chapel. It is quite a distance from where Betty lives but I
dont mind the walk. Different people from the Salvation Army lead the
service, quite often it is Phil, and when he preaches he speaks quietly as if
it is just you and him in the chapel. This morning the windows are open which
is fortunate because many of the people smell, a few months ago I would not
have noticed it, but now with my respectability has come fastidiousness and
whilst I often talk to those being helped who have come in, swap tales and
laugh at their jokes, I do not feel the same as them, I have become something
better and I pity these people.
You seem happy. Phil says
to me after the service, he had not lead today, but even so he had been
surrounded by people afterwards, but he had looked at me, so I knew that he
wanted me to wait for him.
I shrug, but at the moment I do feel
happy, I have eaten and feel full and more importantly I know that I will eat
again once I get home and this evening and the next day and so on.
Yes, and I am very
You dont have to be
grateful, I am grateful to you for letting us help. I still remember you in
that MacDonalds so unhappy. He smiled in fond remembrance. Do
you still have those nightmares?
I nod, although they are less scary on
a Sunday morning than when I face them at night and wake up wet and
Have you tried prayer? he
asks. The room feels warm despite the window being open and it is small or
seems that way because of all the books, boxes and other junk that litter it. I
can smell Phil, a whiff of aftershave or perhaps it is holiness.
I try, sometimes when I am in
bed at night, I try and I read that bible you gave me but I feel as if there is
something blocking me.
Gods grace is open to
all Phil tells me, no matter what you have done.
There is a chair next to me and Phil
comes over sits in it and bows his head.
Please pray with
I bow my head as Phil
Dear father, please help this
our brother Sam. We thank you that he is safe now and with people who care for
him. Please show him the way to you in your infinite mercy. Show him that
whatever he has done that your arms are open just waiting to receive him into
Phil then recited the Lords
Prayer and after he had done he squeezed my shoulder.
Thank you I said, and I
was grateful to him, grateful for trying, but there were no waiting arms for
me. I felt that I was the same person that I had done a few moments before; I
did not feel bliss or a sense of grace and love, nothing at all. I walked out
of the chapel and said goodbye to a few people. Curiously I felt let down by
Phil, perhaps I had discovered that he was human, that he could not help me
with everything, that he could not save my soul.
I am putting items in the freezers at
Tesco, bags of chips which we are always running short of. It is hot and I long
to be outside going for a run on Clapham Common or maybe just along the
streets. Still an hour to go, but I am happy. The job is quite physical which I
like and I had a rather flirty chat with Marie a girl who works in the bakery.
Perhaps I should ask her out somewhere, although I am not sure what Betty would
say if I brought a girl back.
Excuse me, the problem
with this job is that you are always being interrupted by members of the public
asking where something or other is. There is a young man looking at me,
well-groomed with smart jeans and a shirt with an understated flowery
Do you know where the lentils
are? he asks, and then he does a double take, its Andrew isnt
it? What are you doing in London?
I look at him, not knowing what to
say. Do I know him? I dont think so, but so much is a blank. He continues
to look at me, and suddenly his look changes, and he looks very scared
It is okay mate, it cant
. Someone I used to know. He hurries off and out of the
I dream that I am going home, to a
house with red bricks and a small garden at the front. I am glad to be there, I
have been away for such a long time. The door is ajar and I push it open. I
feel scared as I look in the dining room which is laid for dinner and the
downstairs toilet. I know there is something in the kitchen so I go upstairs to
avoid it, I look at my bedroom with rows of books including my John Betjeman
poems. There is a room next to mine, I open the door, it is dark and there is a
creature in there, and I am overwhelmed with terror. I wake up and rush to the
toilet and am sick and sick again, and then I howl. The bathroom window is
open, and through it I can see the stars, and I continue to howl, not knowing
why I am doing it or why I feel so desperate.
It is similar to being on the streets;
always looking, being aware, noticing anything that is not right. But now I
have a rifle and armour and I am on the side of law and order, well that is the
theory, but I am not sure that I feel any safer.
I went into the army recruiting office
one day, just a whim really. I did not tell anyone, not anybody at Tesco and
not even Phil, especially not Phil. They accepted me and I left Phil a note and
was gone. I needed to leave, meeting that bloke in Tesco had scared me, I was
getting too comfortable, and when you get comfortable then you are vulnerable,
and I felt that I had got all I needed from the Salvation Army.
Yes I did miss Betty and I still think
of Phil on occasion, but I have learned to let go of people and to forget them.
Once I left the streets I rarely thought of Rosa and the other two, never went
to try to find them, they were the past and now so is Phil and his friends, no
doubt he is helping somebody else find their way in life and has forgotten
Within a few months I was fully
trained and then I was posted here to Northern Ireland. I became friends with
my fellow soldiers; they were a tough lot, did not give much away, but we were
loyal to each other and when large numbers of the population hate you and want
to kill you they are precisely who you want on your side. I do not tell them
much about myself, but I have constructed a personality of sorts which I can
For a long time after I joined the
army my dreams started to fade. I was so tired with all the training that
perhaps I forgot them as soon as I was awake. I would stagger onto my bunk at
night, try to read a poem and next moment I would be being woken up the morning
light glaring into our dormitory, and some jumped-up officer shouting at us. I
loved tiring myself out and learning how to survive. Only once after we did
hand-to-hand fighting did I dream; I dreamed I was fighting, punching out at
someone who refused to surrender, and then there was that name being called
Andrew, Andrew. Fortunately we changed our own bed linen so nobody
knew what had happened.
And now we are in Belfast, in Ulster
marching the streets or driving in our armoured vehicles, watching the people
on either side of us, knowing that someone could be planning to kill us; fire a
gun, toss a bomb. I do not want my last moments to be lying on the ground
surrounded by jeering mobs who can think of nothing better than kicking and
spitting at a dying English soldier. I am scared much of the time, but then
fear can be healthy.
I see a woman as we drive along; she
is walking slowly towards us and as we get closer she catches my eye. She looks
about forty; it is October and cold and she is wearing a green army coat as if
mocking our uniform. I cannot read her expression but as I continue to look at
her she raises her hand and like a child playing pretends to shoot me, I feel
like joining in the game and returning her fire with my finger, or my
. We drive past her and I continue to scan the streets,
but the woman stays in my bed, and I hope that I will see her again, although I
am not if I would love her or kill her.
Had I kissed and drawn you to
me,/ Had you yielded warm for cold,/ What a power had pounded through me/ As I
stroked your streaming gold!
There is a house I recognise in front
of me and I am walking towards it. As I go through the door there is that same
woman I saw today, she is making a cup of tea, and she smiles at me as
nervously I sit down, and there is someone else there, but I cannot seem them
Is it poisoned? I ask her,
and then I throw it at her, the cup crashes to the floor, stop trying to
kill me, I shout.
I hear her weep and walk up to my room
and lie on my bed. Then I look out of the window but there is just blackness
and suddenly I realise that everything around me is black, that I cannot see
anything. I start to scream.
We are told to go to a house, it is in
one of the Catholic areas of the cities; the house is part of a terrace and
there is graffiti on it; IRA, informers and other words
that I cannot read. I am with Matt, an older man.
What are we doing here? I
ask feeling nervous. There are dribs of people about and most of them are
looking at us hostile and mocking. Angel and Simon are close behind us, but I
do not feel safe. We walk in, the door is open and there are members of the RUC
Sorry one of them says,
it isnt nice but we need back-up.
I can smell blood. The hallway is
narrow and dark and the constable leads us to the back of the house, the floor
is covered in muddy footprints and I feel guilty about adding to them. We walk
into the dining room and in front of us there are four people sat round a table
with something red on their clothes. It is a mother, father and two boys, the
two boys and their fathers heads are bowed as if in prayer, but the
mother is looking straight at me, her eyes brown and sightless.
I was on day release from the unit; my
dreams had stopped and when my mum and my brother Danny had visited I had been
calm and polite.
Andrew if you start to worry,
just ring me my consultant said as he drove me to my home on the
outskirts of Nottingham. There was the house from my dreams, I walked towards
it and opened the door, my consultant watched me step in and hug my mother, and
then I heard him drive away, he was going to pick me up that evening.
I followed my mother into the kitchen
and there was Danny, we sat around the kitchen table just a normal family
having tea. Danny was scared, I could tell and so was my mother but less
so. We drank tea and ate Battenberg cake, my favourite. The kitchen smelt as it
usually did of disinfectant and there were the same pictures on the walls; one
of me and one of Danny, but the one of Danny was bigger. He did public speaking
and there were a couple of certificates he had won, one of which he must have
received whilst I was away.
We are glad you are home
said the woman pretending to be my mother, and Danny nodded but not meaning
They watched me eat the cake and drink
the tea, I knew that this was a mistake, this visit, that nothing had
It tastes funny I said,
after realising I had not said anything for awhile, and I stood up. Danny ran
upstairs as he had been told to whenever I got upset.
Poison I said,
poison. The woman ran for the telephone, but I had the knife I had
stolen from the kitchens, and brought with me in case something happened, and I
caught her before she could ring anyone, pulled her down onto the floor, and
then I stabbed her over and again, something that I had wanted to do since I
could remember. She had stopped making any noise and lay in front of me still
solid and hateful. I wiped the knife on her dress, her best one that she must
have worn especially for my visit. I felt calmer for a few moments and relieved
that I had done what I needed to do. But I knew that I could not stop now, so I
went upstairs for Danny.
I remember running out of the garden I
must have grabbed a book of poetry before I fled, because there it was in my
hand. And then nothing, until I woke up in that underground carpark
smelling piss and sick and trying to remember what my name was.
My rifle is in my hand and I am
sweating. I look at the people around me, the living and the dead, and realise
that I am weeping. I push Matt aside and run out into the open where the air is
clear and fresh and where I feel free. There are still plenty of people outside
the house and they look at me and laugh as I stagger out and start to run
whilst behind me I hear my name being called, fading into the grey Belfast
At first I just run, to escape the
house and my memories, but soon I start heading towards the docks, they are
nearby and there will be boats from all over the world and perhaps someone will
let me come aboard and take me to where I wish to go, somewhere safe and
hidden, somewhere faraway, a harbour.