It was the last few days of autumn when you could still feel a fading summer breeze and the gentle embrace of the sun, not warm enough as you’d like it to be but still quite comforting. The nights were slowly getting colder and people were already wearing overcoats as you could never be too sure in a city like London.
I had gone for a car ride on a Sunday evening when all the roads were clear. The air was fresh and the radio was playing Viva La Vida, by Coldplay, a band I’m no big fan of. But this particular song seemed to be speaking directly to me. It was like a three minute time-lapse through my own memories, dreams and hopes, with its jubilant, slightly nostalgic melodies and all the expectation before the compelling refrain commonly found in great songs. I found myself looking out the window, inevitably contemplating life, going from melancholy to exhilaration in a few seconds. I pulled the windows down and felt incredibly grateful for the here and now, for the smell of trees and the breeze on my face.
On my way back home I started slowing down trying to prolong the drive as much as I could, as always being anxious about another Monday and all that comes with it. I had been driving for a few minutes when I stopped at a red light in East Finchley. People were coming out of Phoenix Cinema talking and smiling in a collective buzz. I began to feel a bit silly using so much petrol on a car ride when I could have gone to see a film and be all cheerful and smiley like the people I was watching in their post film reveries.
Further up the road, I saw a homeless guy laying outside a shoe shop. He was wrapped up in a sleeping bag from the waist down, leaning on his elbow and chewing something. We looked at each other briefly which made me feel uncomfortable. I’d seen homeless people like him so often but for some reason I became self-conscious that I was inside my own car, going to my house for a nice warm bath while he was lying on the cold floor, I imagined with little to eat and hope for. The fact that I was too aware of this person only made me less equipped to deal with all the problems you see in the world, in the news or right in front of you. It didn’t make me more mature, it just made me weaker. I decided I would speak to this man. It might have been because of Coldplay or better yet because of Viva La Vida - which is not the same thing in a similar way that listening to Hallelujah is a completely different experience from listening to the rest of Leonard Cohen’s songs.
The lights turned green and I accelerated towards the shops where I found the perfect parking space right in front of an off-license. As I got out of the car I kept my eyes on the homeless guy. He had got up and was examining the floor for cigarette butts. I thought about buying him a pack but wasn’t sure. I bought a bunch of healthy things assuming he was malnourished. In London, you could never be too sure. Clementines, bananas, some nuts and a small carton of milk. I placed the items on the counter and smiled. “£3.59” the man said. I’d been to his shop before but never considered where he had come from. He looked Middle Eastern. As I watched him preparing my change I thought about where he might be from. When I decided to ask he had already put his hand out and was back on his mobile looking at the face of a woman in a veil.
As I left the shop I noticed a pizza franchise offering “buy one get one free!” “One for me, one for him,” I thought. I ordered the Meat Feast for the homeless guy hoping he wasn’t a vegan hipster rebelling against his rich parents. It’s London after all and you could never be too sure.
I waited 10 minutes for the pizzas, paid and decided to walk down to the homeless guy but to my surprise, he had already left. There were no signs that he’d been there. I stood for a few minutes bemusedly holding the pizzas and the goodie bag. I wondered where he might have gone and if I’d ever see him there again.
It was getting late and there was hardly anyone in the street when the cinema lights were turned off, causing the street to change and returning my thoughts to the dread of another Monday.
While driving back home I kept looking at parallel roads trying to spot the homeless guy but I never saw him again. When I got to the driveway my space was the only one waiting to be filled. All my neighbours were in. Lights coming from their flats gave the impression of warmth and comfort. I disliked the dark since childhood and always turn on all the lights whenever I am by myself. The kitchen, the bathroom, living room, even the small storage room. I threw the pizza boxes onto the sofa and went to the bathroom. As I washed my hands, I kept thinking about the homeless man, sleeping rough, somewhere, looking out at the road as the night settled and the cars became fewer and fewer. I returned to the living room and sat on the sofa, looked at the pizzas and at the TV, which I had not yet turned on. I saw my reflection, which no longer captured the exhilaration of Viva La Vida and I imagined my neighbours in their homes. The skateboarder, the Filipinos and the old lady with the cocker-spaniel – if like me, they too dreaded Mondays.
Diogo was born in Lisbon in 1982. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University where he developed a writing style influenced by the city and his life experiences. He has published short stories and he is currently working on a novel.