Newcastle Herald short story competition 2018: The Lonely Street

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak

I RUN. When my struggles are at their foremost, I stow my meager belongings and I run. I run until my heart has almost burst and until my legs can no longer carry me. 

I run the trails and the tracks that snake through and around Newcastle. I run the roads and the pavements, the narrow laneways and the long streets. I know every crack and crevice and pothole. Houses and building, cars and signposts have all become my landmarks. Every bend or hill, a guide. It is odd, the objects you find an appreciation for. Things most people pass by without acknowledgment are now as familiar to me as they are recognisable, and I know them as well as I would know an old friend. I am lost in the rhythm, the pace and the pound of my own heart and it is only here, I catch those small private moments of grace. 

As I pass through, I lift my nose to the air and smell other people’s existence. Lamb slowly roasting, chicken grilling, the sweetness of sugar baking or something frying. Perhaps it is fish. Coffee is brewing. A lawn is freshly mown, and a jasmine plant is in full bloom. These are the lives of others. My heart hurts when I momentarily realise, I no longer have a place at that table. 

I had not been in this world before, yet somehow, I knew it well. I had seen its sorrow and I had swallowed down some of its grief, but I had always kept it at a respectable distance. Sometimes your life is hard and there are days, in the mere normality of it, where everything just seems to go wrong, but it is much harder to navigate those days when you are homeless and living on the streets. 

And it is here where I have become so much like a small dog. Raggedy, tenacious yet appreciative of the simplest of things. 

I have barked furiously at my plight and still I desire the gentle touch from the kindest of hands. I fall on the smallest of scraps thrown my way as though I am a lowly member of a pack of hungry wolves. I am free to roam and run the streets, but I still feel the need to exert my existence by marking out my territory.     

On the streets you rely on nothing and no one except yourself. The human spirit it seems, can be one that is unshakable.

Some days, the balance of my life here teeters between precarious and graceful,  dependent on the weight of judgement or the small offering of humility.  And you know you are on indifferent ground when you are so far from home you no longer know where it is nor how to even begin to get back there.

I believe not all who live in the absence of company are lonely. I for one never tire of the solitude, even in those moments when I crave just a quiet word from a stranger.

Some of the homeless impress me. 

Others do not. 

Some have hearts as generous and as big as their mental illnesses, some are haunted by torment and some are unquestionably tough and street hardened. 

Others are sly, arse-holish and evasive. Some sit huddled next to their piles of blankets, their bed frames mere cardboard. Others clutch their only possessions to them as one would clutch a small child. 

The ones with no identity seem to have the ability to survive the best, yet they are saddened by a bleakness I just cannot fathom. These are the ones who hold to no past and equally to no future. 

For the others, the absence of acceptance sees them cling hopelessly to what is lost but not all that is lost, need ever be found. 

All of us though, look for our reflection on any surface and growl “I am not invisible”.

Occasionally, someone will disappear from the streets. Where they go, what happened to them I do not know but they are quickly replaced by that continuous train of human decay which regularly filters through this city. I myself have vanquished all my ties. 

I have buried those bones deep which bind me to people and places, but my aloneness is one of comfort. There is an ease to being alone, yet how is it possible that one can be alone in a city surrounded by four hundred thousand plus people. 

Someone wrote on the pavement in blue chalk “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty”. I believe not all who live in the absence of company are lonely. I for one never tire of the solitude, even in those moments when I crave just a quiet word from a stranger.

When destitute, different people it seems, will spurn you in different ways. They pet you then shoo you away with the same hand.  Even the pissweak will shoot those painful barbs of judgement if they feel they have the upper hand. This is what happens when boundaries are called and kept and therein, I no longer put value in the stock of people and I cannot pretend otherwise.  

Life here can be a dehumanising process if you allow it, but I have decided I will not roll over and play dead.  In the light of everything, perhaps the hardest of all in the world to do is to show ourselves a little compassion so my kindness to myself is to run. 

My shoes are worn and dust splattered. There is a hole in my rubber sole but still I run and the joy of it never fails to tug like a lead on my heart.

So I find my lonely street. 

I wait to be thrown a stick. 

And I run ...

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