When it stopped raining I left the hospital and started the walk back towards the mall. It felt like forever and so when the rain came pouring down again, I rather ducked into the library, clutching my side, my chest heaving.
I sank into an armchair closest to the librarian’s desk, and after a few minutes rest, the throbbing died down. I found a book to read and it helped distract me from the pain. The next thing I knew, the librarian announced that the library would be closing in 15 minutes.
I thought of how Dada would have been proud that I’m still reading, even though it’s only when I’m not battling to survive. I put the book, Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel, back on the shelf. It’s a great ‘rags to riches’ story. I can’t take books out because I can’t get a library card as I have no proof of address. Anyways they would only get damaged, and I would get fined.
Back on the street, the wind whips around the corners, stinging my face with fat raindrops. A car speeds by while I stand waiting to cross the road. Its wheels sweep up a puddle of water and fling it full force at me. Good thing I’ve got the hospital plastic bag covering my upper body, but my legs are wet and the dampness makes my skin itch.
The library closed at 5pm, but the dark sky makes it seem later. The dim light of the street lamps reflects off the rain-soaked streets.
* * * * *
A few cars dot the mall parking lot, and the regular car guards have already quit for the day, either because of the weather or they’ve earned enough.
The mall closes at 7pm. I have to stick around in the hopes of scratching together 10 bucks, but I’m not holding my breath. Plus there’s no way I’m making it to the casino in this pain. Perhaps I should commit a petty crime that will land me in the police cells for the night? But, there’s no guarantee it’s only for one night.
I collect only three rand and some coppers during the almost two hours I spend at the mall; enough for a plain panini. Handfuls of pouring rain help the dry bread and medication down my throat.
I’m huddled in a corner outside the mall doors. The building is locked up for the night, but I need to move; standing still I’ll turn into an ice cube, and rubbing my hands together just tires me.
The train station is the closest hope for shelter from the cold and rain – the unused cubicles for the ticket collectors, at the top of the stairs to the platforms.
The stench of urine makes my stomach do a double-take, but it’s dry inside. My jacket pulled halfway up my face does little to block the smell, but I’ve come to learn the body can adapt to most situations in a time of need. These are desperate times.
I’m woken from a fitful sleep by feet stomping by and the screeching of a train coming to a standstill. The first commuters of the day on their way to work, with what I imagine are warm workplaces, with warmer coffee. They’ve got something to look forward to.
For me it’s a different day, but nothing ever changes.
Tell us: Why do you think shelters make homeless people pay a small amount of money (in this case R10) to sleep inside them?