On this difficult morning, one filled with autumn leaves and similarly orange leaders, I decided to take a walk while listening to Death Grips as loud as physically possible, allowing the blood blister I’d acquired the night before to split and sting within my boot. The various fluids caused my sock to stick to me and each harsh step down a curb caused a wince which formed into a smile, each corner a chance to grind my heel into the lack of support in my poorly laced boots.
Exiting one corner, I almost stepped into a man I’ve known for a while, a homeless man who lives around my home. He asked me how I was, shook my hand, and asked me what I was doing. I chose to walk with him as he returned to his “spot” outside the nearby bank. He said he had to be careful. ‘Theres a new lad you see, a big lad coming to take our spot. I’ve got to think about me and the woman you know? What about us? Where will we go you know?’ I nod, noncommittally, obviously unable to truly ever “know.”
Once we arrived at his spot, the woman he’s always with stood up to greet me as warmly as the man did. She was clearly on edge herself, so I posited that it was due to the lad. When she looked confused I responded, ‘The big lad?’
‘Oh, no! Not at all. It’s just very cold. The lad doesn’t worry me actually. We’re all homeless, we’re all humans. I don’t imagine he’ll be much trouble if we just talk to him, use some diplomacy and appeal to his human side.’
‘That won’t work babe. This guy just won’t understand any of that stuff, nor does he deserve the offer of it after threatening me. Violence is the only answer.’
This went on for a while, with me standing back, not wanting to interrupt or take part in what was altogether an important discussion being had amicably. As I waited for my chance to either cut in or be asked a question, I took in my surroundings. Everything seemed greyer than usual, even in the already monochrome area of Withington, with everyone’s faces seemingly downcast. While this morning’s announcement wasn’t literally close to home, it had still struck at the hope contained within most of the general public.
I was pulled from my thoughts by a squeeze from the man, his gloved fingers pressing into the flesh of my arm. I looked at him before following his gaze towards a large man heading our way.
‘Don’t do anything stupid [name redacted] before he’s even given a chance to speak. Right, Jake?’ I looked at her appealing eyes, not knowing what to say. They were glassy, hidden behind jet black hair and unwashed features. I shrugged, once again noncommittally. I didn’t feel best qualified to comment and thought my input would probably get lost in the back and forth anyway.
‘What are you two doing here?’
‘We’re in our spot.’
‘My spot.’ The huge guy stepped forward, pushing my homeless friend lightly in the chest so that he was forced onto his back foot, but nothing too aggressive. Before he could react, his female companion was up.
‘Look, let’s just leave it okay? This is nobody’s spot, it’s just a place where people have started to congregate and you’re new. Why don’t we just sit down and chat?’
‘How about you three fuck off, or I’ll have the lot of you?’
The man and woman don’t move to say anything, and I take the chance to step in. ‘It’s the lesser of two evils [name redacted]. We should just go, take the option we’ve been given and try to see how we can make the best of it.’ I appeal to them both, gesturing with my hands. He’s reluctant, but she nods her head, starting to pull him by his arm towards me.
As we walked away, the man kept on staring back towards the large man now occupying his spot, glowering with explicit menace, but he allowed himself to be pulled along, aware he no longer had any power. ‘You have to admit [name redacted], this is for the best. We’re working the middle ground. We had no other option.’
‘There are always other options.’ He didn’t look at me as he spoke, pulled away from the woman and walked ahead. She apologised and rushed after him, left me to think about the event, ponder on it till my belly felt bloated with anxiety and disillusionment. I rang a friend who said it was too early for a drink, before we both laughed and agreed to meet nearby. When I told him the story, he agreed that I’d done all I could do, that there was nothing to be done outside of the given parameters.
‘What were you going to do? Take the beating? That’s the worst case scenario isn’t it? You either go with the shitty middle option or you take the battering, because the right thing is never going to happen.’
As I walked home later on, I saw the lad sitting in the doorway of the bank. Despite the cold, he didn’t appear to be huddled, but rather exuded a confidence, maybe even pride and met my gaze as I walked past. He stood, defending his territory, knowing that despite what I wanted, what I knew was right, I’d never win. There was no way to win like this, not unless the structure was changed.
Without a change in structure, without a true argument on either side, bullies like him would always prosper. Men like him preyed on those divorced to the middle ground.