On the edge of life
The doors of the high street cafe were opened wide. Across the road, a police car was parked, the officer inside sat and watched those gathered around a table outside the cafe door. From inside, a man came out with carrier bags, which were handed out to the those standing waiting. There were calls of thanks and laughter. As the group dispersed, there were hugs and back slaps. Content all was well, the policeman started the engine and drove off.
Perhaps different cafes provide a distribution of food on different nights of the week. Perhaps those who collect the carrier bags at cafe doors have a routine, calling at a different establishment according to which night of the week it is. There was a warmth between the people, a happy willingness to touch and to embrace when the rest of the world stands at a distance, fearing the infection human contact might bring.
Perhaps those who stood around the table are invisible in normal times. Perhaps when cafes, bars and restaurants are busy with customers, the people on the margins gather at a back door for the food. Perhaps it is to the credit of the cafe, now locked down for a month, that someone prepares food for the marginalised.
What leads someone to be on the edge? What leads someone to be among a small gathering receiving a food handout on a bright April evening?
My father grew up in Chiswick in west London and used to tell recall a man who lived under a bridge over the Thames. Each morning, the man would heat a can of water on a Primus stove in order to wash and shave. His ablutions complete, the man would put on a collar and tie and go to work. No-one asked where he went each day; no-one asked from where he had come. Perhaps he was a survivor from one of the world wars of the previous thirty years who found himself without a home. Perhaps he had chosen a life of solitariness, a life of isolation.
Perhaps among those who gathered for the bags of food there were those trapped by substance abuse, addictions to drugs or alcohol, but how did people slip into such a trap? Perhaps circumstances had conspired against others in the group, misfortune and misjudgement had brought them to the point where they were receiving free food handouts.
Who know who will find themselves in places they do not expect?
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