I haven’t known S for long, but he’s a safe pair of hands. He’s had a varied career and tells tales of working on motorways, driving heavy goods vehicles and travelling around the country. There is asphalt in his voice and good kind earth beneath his feet.
S works for the civil service now, in an open plan office. Greying strawberry blonde hair dangles down his back in a long straight ponytail, and he regards me with the sad astute eyes of one who’s seen too much, but remained unbroken. He doesn’t just look at you, he looks inside you as if searching for something.
People like S are uncommon here, and it’s surprising how village-like a large city can be. There are people here who rarely leave Birmimgham, and some who never have.
S told me a story. I can only paraphrase it.
‘I was walking home from work and … do you know the place?’ He described an area I know well. It’s trendy and surrounded by public buildings. Not very open plan.
‘I saw this young couple. They’re in their 20s, I suppose, and you don’t often see couples like that sitting homeless on the street. They’d been sleeping rough.
‘My conscience kicked in, and I felt like I couldn’t walk past, so I spoke to them. They had a history of living in care homes, but they’d somehow met and fallen in love. I gave them some money … reached out a bit. It just seemed right somehow.
‘The young women fell pregnant, but she lost the baby. Gave birth to it on the steps of that building.’ S went on to describe where it was. I think I know.
‘All that was left there was a streak of blood which a cleaner mopped up the next day. No story left to tell about the dead child. Just a bit of blood. Nothing left.
‘Well, you’d never guess. I lost track of them after a while, but the other week I saw them walking along hand-in-hand, smiling. “S! Hello, how are you!” They’d got themselves somewhere to live. I don’t know how, but the young woman said, “You gave me hope, and I felt I could carry on.”‘ He gave her hope. Hope.
This probably counts as a happy ending. But in this era of iPads, apps and ‘always on’ technology, some people fall off the radar. Their lives are invisible to most of us. Unless, of course, we choose to open our eyes, reach out and give them hope.