Her name is Tanya. I didn’t get a chance to ask whether it was with an I or a Y. I met her two weeks ago.
I’m one of those, perhaps rare, or just awkward people, who, unless I know you really well, will just ignore you. We could be friends, we were friends. We’d spent the end of the term cycling together, laughing and ‘gisting’ until the wee hours of the morning. But we’d been on holiday. Unsure of how the atmosphere would react, I decided to walk in the other direction, ignoring him.
But that’s how I met Tanya. Opposite a 24/7 McDonald’s, crouched on the steps of a boutique shop, the slab of concrete a substitute sofa-come-bed-come-chair, she sat huddled. A tattered skirt was stretched over folded legs, her hair was pulled back, and the edges of her face had begun to show the grime of an unwashed body. She was asking for money. I had none, not a penny. So I stopped to apologise.
“Thank you for noticing me,” she said. “Thank you.”
I hadn’t eaten. I was going home to make a jambalaya of all the left overs our fridge had to offer. I was also cold. But, there was no-one in my accommodation, and I felt bad for ignoring my friend. So, to redeem myself I crouched down next to her.
“Hi,” I said tentatively. There was a group of French tourists looking at us strangely.”I’m so sorry I have no money…how are you?” We got talking. I shifted to sit next to her. She reeked of alcohol. A juice carton was glued to her right hand and made frequent trips to her thin-lipped mouth. It was a special kind of juice – highly fermented. I stretched out my hand and introduced myself. She seemed a bit startled, but shook it, and we exchanged names. She didn’t quite remember mine – but she was Tanya, maybe with a Y, maybe an I.
“What happened…how did you get here?”
What else could I ask? So she started talking. It was an erratic story. She was in an abusive relationship, but couldn’t return to her house because of the memories. Yet because she had a house she couldn’t get into a shelter. She was going to court in May to prosecute her partner, then she was moving in with her Mother. Hopefully she’d get her daughter – Leah – back. And then she began to talk about her boyfriend whom she loved very much. But he was gone, and now she was sick in the head, she wasn’t going to survive.
In and amongst her ramblings I tried to comfort her. Tell her justice would be done. It would be ok. The cynic inside branded her a liar. The kid who’d just returned from youth group said – offer to Pray. The Kid won. I laid my hand, after asking, gently on her leather coated arm. Her flesh dimpled underneath my fingertips. I prayed a simple prayer. She began to cry, shake and cry.
She was a Catholic. She knew the faith, she believed, but she was going to die. Nothing could save her situation.
In between talking to me, she called out, cheekily, to passers-by. For some reason, with my legitimate presence people started to pay attention. One student, she’d mistaken her for a boy, went into McDonald,s and came out with a hamburger for her and vouchers.
Tanya offered to share. I was starving, but refused. It vanished pretty quick. Another guy leaving McD’s offered her his coppers. He walked away. Then returned. He gave her a crisp tenner.
“You know I’m just going to spend it on drink don’t you?”
He didn’t care. He’d felt convicted but didn’t want to get involved. We said God Bless. His good deed was done. I tried to convince her to get food. In the end she acquiesced – but she was still going to get that Vodka. At this point your rolling your eyes saying typical. If you’d done GCSE biology or chemistry you’d know a few things about alcohol:
It can generate warmth
It dulls pain
It dulls memories
It dulls hunger
I could understand why she wanted that Sainsbury’s Vodka. But now I was hungry, and cold. I prayed for her again, told her to get some food. She smiled, I smiled. I promised to pray for her and Leah. Then we parted ways. She wasn’t there the next morning.
Yet – they are there in the evenings. The Anonymous Crowd that haunt our streets, the edges of our vision, the distant boundaries of our senses. They have names. They have a story. They’re also human. Look down – even if it’s only to say Sorry – at least once in a while.