Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Good Samaritan

Day One: There’s a hostel for the homeless near where I live. I pass by it most days and today I noticed that a lot of those housed there appear to be asylum seekers. Must be terrible being forced to leave behind all of your possessions and everything you ever knew. Feel so sorry for those poor, desperate people. They’ve got nothing.
Day Two: Couldn’t get to sleep last night for worrying about the refugees in that dirty council hostel. The place is so grubby, you can smell it even when you are on the other side of the road. Apparently, they can be in there for many months before they are finally re-housed. Felt rather guilty knowing that I’ve got more room than I need while they are forced to stay all crammed up in that unhealthy place. Anyway, I was eating breakfast when I came to a decision. I’m going to try to befriend some of them later and see if anyone wants to rent a room from me. I’ll only charge a nominal rent so they have a chance to get on their feet and find a place of their own. I feel I must do something, seeing as how I’m relatively privileged and they have so little.
Day Three: I got chatting with one of the refugees on my way home tonight. His name is Ahmed and he seemed like a really polite and humble guy. He said he had to leave his country because his life was in danger. Shocking tale. Anyway, I told him I had a spare room for rent and he seemed very keen. He’s coming round tomorrow (Saturday) to take a look and discuss rent and such like. I will keep it as low as I can, but I’m not that well off myself, so he will obviously have to cover his share of the bills.
Day Four: Ahmed loved the room so much he’s already moved in. I said we would celebrate to mark the occasion. He doesn’t drink because of his religion, so I said I would cook a nice meal instead. I said I didn’t know where the nearest halal butcher was, but he told me the local fried chicken place is all halal, so I bought a party bucket and we had a bit of a feast. Ahmed was really grateful and apologised profusely when I explained to him that throwing the bones on the carpet wasn’t really the done thing.
Day Five: Ahmed told me his wife is due to arrive tomorrow. I hadn’t realised he was married. I’m worried that the room I’m renting him is a bit small for a couple and I hadn’t bargained on more than one person, but I can hardly say no and keep them apart. Anyway, it’s only a temporary arrangement and I’m sure he will soon get off benefits and be able to find a place for him and his missus. We’ll all rub along, I expect.
Day Six. Ahmed’s wife arrived from the airport by taxi this afternoon. Actually, I should say “wives”. He has two of them. He said he thought he’d made it clear and was very sorry I had misunderstood. I don’t really agree with men having more than one wife, but I guess it’s a cultural thing and I‘ll just have to accept it. This is a bit of a problem, but I’ve rented the room to him now and he can’t go back to the hostel, so I guess I’ll just have to put up with it for the time being. Ahmed didn’t have any money left from his giro, so I had to pay the cab driver. Sixty bloody quid! Ouch! I could have done without that, what with it being the middle of the month, but I dare say he’ll pay me back as soon as he can.
Day Seven: When I got home this evening, I found Ahmed and his wives had moved my stuff to the box room and installed themselves in my room. He said he thought I wouldn’t mind as I was such a nice man and he knew how bothered I had been having the three of them in such a cramped space. I felt a bit put out at first, but I guess it does make more sense this way and I don’t really need a double bed. Can hardly expect all three of them to sleep in a single bed.
Day Eight: The single bed has been moved into my old bedroom and there is a camp bed in the box room now. The double bed wasn’t big enough for the three of them, apparently. Ahmed said he got the camp bed from a second-hand shop. I asked him where he’d found the money to pay for it, but he said the shop is owned by his cousin who didn’t mind waiting for the money. I was rather annoyed, but Ahmed and his wives thanked me so much and so warmly for all I’d done to help them, I felt too guilty to say anything. The camp bed isn’t that uncomfortable, I suppose, no point falling out over it.
Day Nine: Ahmed just told me his giro wasn’t there when he went to collect it, so would I mind waiting for the rent. I did mind because having paid out for the cab that brought his wives, I was short of cash myself. Still, if he hasn’t got it, he hasn’t got it. Can’t get blood from a stone, after all, I’ll just have to rely on my overdraft. Hate doing that with all the money the bank charges me for the privilege, but I’ve got to get to work and buy lunches and such, so not got much choice really.
Day Ten: Came home to find five children in the house. I thought they were visiting relatives, but when it got late and they still hadn’t left, I asked Ahmed whose kids they were and got a bit of a shock when he said they were his. He looks too young to have so many children. Apparently they had been staying with an auntie, but she had told Ahmed she couldn’t keep them anymore because she didn’t have enough room and her husband was getting very cross about it. I’ve only got one thin blanket on my bed now because all the bedding I had was needed to give the kids a place to sleep. They’re all over the living room floor now, snoring their little heads off. I’ve put two coats on my bed, but I’m still cold. Think I’ll leave my socks on tonight.
Day Eleven: I’ve had to move my bed into the hallway. Ahmed said they needed a place to pray and have turned the box room into a prayer room. I was quite cross about it, but he said they would all go to hell if they didn’t do their five prayers each day and what can you say to that? The sooner Ahmed finds a job and a flat for them all to move into, the better. I don’t like to be uncharitable, but I’m getting a lot more than I’d bargained for. I rented my room to one guy and now I’m living with eight of them and as his wives are both pregnant, I’m keeping my fingers crossed they will have moved on before the place is full of stinking nappies.
Day Twelve: There’s an old woman sleeping on my camp bed in the hall. Ahmed said he was very sorry for taking such a liberty, but the old woman was his first wife’s mother and she had been driven out of her rented room by racist abuse. I was going to put my foot down, but he told me she had a heart problem and needed her daughter to care for her. Well, I could hardly throw the woman out. Didn’t want her death on my conscience, after all. There was nothing else for it, so I got my sleeping bag out of the loft and made a bed up in the garden shed. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s quite roomy and at least there is a small oil heater that keeps it reasonably warm.
Day Thirteen: Had to have a shower at work today. My bath was full of wee-soaked sheets soaking in bleach. Couple of the kids are bed wetters, apparently, though I‘m a bit suspicious the old woman might have had something to do with it as well. Wouldn’t be so bad, but I’ve noticed the living room carpet has some mysterious stains on it too. What with all their cooking as well, my place is starting to smell pretty rank. Ahmed’s two wives and mother in law have all started wearing black from head to foot, complete with veils. Can’t tell one from the other now and Ahmed has asked me if I wouldn’t mind refraining from talking to them as in his culture, women are not supposed to fraternise with men other than direct family and husbands. Seems a touch backward to me, but if that’s their way, I’ll just have to accommodate him. Not really got much to talk with them about, I guess, and those disembodied eyes peering at me are rather unnerving anyway.
Day Fourteen: Ahmed said he was very sorry, but his giro had failed to turn up for a second week and he was working on getting it sorted out. While he was explaining and apologising, there was a knock on the door and when I opened it, a very large Asian man was standing there and he started shouting at me immediately. “You must pay! You must pay!” he bellowed, waving his fist menacingly. I turned to Ahmed with a querying look, but he had gone.
Well, feeling rather intimidated, I managed to calm the man down and in broken English he explained that he wanted the money for the camp bed. I was taken aback to say the least seeing as how I hadn’t even bought the bed from him and was now sleeping in the shed anyway, but he was so aggressive, I got a bit scared and took him to the bank machine with me where I drew out the money and paid him off. One hundred and ten pounds he took from me! The bed wasn’t even worth half that, but with him towering over me, scowling, I thought it best to pay up and swallow it.
Day Fifteen: They’ve changed the locks and I can’t get into my flat. No amount of banging on the door would get them to answer and when a neighbour shouted from their window that they would call the police if I didn’t stop, I slunk away to my garden shed and lay in my sleeping bag all night, staring at the roof and wondering what the hell I was going to do. I’d got myself into a real pickle and was worried sick.
Day Sixteen: Woke up in a puddle. It had rained hard during the night and my shed wasn’t as water proof as I thought it was. I got up – damp all over and feeling stiff – and after knocking on the door again and getting no answer, I forlornly walked to a local cafe for breakfast. I had to ring work and tell them I couldn’t make it. My boss wasn’t well pleased, but what else could I do?
After using the cafe loo and washing my face with a wet paper towel, I walked to a local advice centre to see what on earth I could do to get back into my home. It was closed and boarded up. A passer-by told me it had shut some months ago due to cutbacks. He said there were three advice centres on the high street, but as one was for Bangladeshis, one for Pakistanis and the other was something to do with gay rights, he didn’t think they would give me the time of day.
Day Seventeen: I found an advice centre in Holborn by using the library Internet. Luckily, it was open on Saturdays. I had to walk there and back to save money. My overdraft is close to its limit and I don’t get paid for another week and need to be really careful. The advice people told me I would have to ask my landlord to start eviction proceedings, which could take anything up to six months or even a year, but until then there was nothing I could do and if I forced my way in, I could be arrested for breaking and entering.
When I got home, there was a caravan in my garden with a fat gypsy woman sitting outside. I asked her what on earth she thought she was doing parking her van in my garden, but a mean-faced gypsy bloke came out with a baseball bat and told me to piss off. He was scary looking and covered in scars and tattoos, so I locked myself in the shed and shivered the night away. The oil heater had run dry, my sleeping bag was still wringing wet and all I could do was squat in the corner of the shed and try to doze.
Day Eighteen: Not much to report. Still no answer to my knocking, so no Sunday dinner for me today. Big Mac and fries was the best I could do. Had to kill time wandering about the shopping centre and then spent another long, miserable night in the shed.
Day Nineteen: I didn’t get to sleep until first light and then I overslept and was late for work. My boss called me into the office and sacked me. He said I’d been late three times in the last six months and taking Friday off had been the final straw, so he was letting me go. He said I was too scruffy and smelly to allow into the showroom anyway and no amount of pleading would change his mind. I left his office stunned and wandered the streets for hours until finally, realising I hadn’t eaten all day, I decided to get my last bit of cash out and buy some food. Bank charges had taken me over my limit without me realising, however, and the machine swallowed my card. I had less than a quid left to my name and had to suffer the humiliation of asking the man in the chip shop if he could do me a small portion of chips for ninety pence. Grudgingly, he agreed, but looked at me like something he’d trodden in and I could feel my cheeks burning with shame.
Day Twenty: After another miserable night in the shed, kept awake by the cold and by loud, drunken singing and laughter coming from the gypsy caravan, I walked to my landlord’s offices on the other side of town and explained to him that I had been locked out of my own flat and needed him to get the people responsible evicted. He said he would look into it, but also said I had sublet without his permission and only had myself to blame.
Outside, one of his employees was leaning against the wall smoking. “You’ve got yourself in a mess, ain’t you mate”, he said. I nodded, feeling close to tears. “He won’t evict them, you know,” he said. I asked why not and he explained that my landlord would be getting more rent for the flat as there were now nine people living there.
Well, I thought about going back into the office and shouting the odds, but in deep shock, I just ambled away instead and headed home. By the time I got back – after walking for what seemed like endless miles – it was quite late and being dog weary, I figured, despite being half-starved and chilled to the bone, I would at least be able to get some sleep.
Wasn’t to be. My sleeping bag was gone. In fact, the shed was gone, as were all my border plants, my watering can and the lawn. Even louder drunken laughter and singing was coming from the gypsy caravan, so it didn’t take Columbo to work out who had nicked all my stuff and flogged it.
Day Twenty One: I slept on a park bench. I’ve never been so cold, hungry and desperate in my life. I was woken by a police officer who told me to move along. I explained to him what had happened to me and he suggested I present myself at the council offices and tell them I was homeless.
I took his advice, but after queueing for several hours to see someone and laying out my whole sorry tale, I was curtly told there was nothing they could do for me and as I wasn’t in a vulnerable category, I wasn’t their responsibility. I said what about the hostel just around the corner from where I’ve been living? “That’s not for people like you,” she said haughtily. “That’s designated for asylum seekers only.”
Day Twenty Two: I woke up on another park bench, but didn’t get moved on this time. It had rained again and I was soaked to the skin and could feel a cold coming on. I figured I would have to go back to the advice centre in Holborn and see if there was anything they could do to help me.
It was a very long walk, though, and not having eaten in two days, before I’d gone half a mile, I felt sick, light-headed and dizzy. By chance, I had to go past the kitchen showroom where, until two days ago, I had been employed as a salesman. Passing the window, I glanced in and almost collapsed in shock. Ahmed was inside, wearing one of my suits and my tie and he was obviously showing a couple a fitted kitchen. As I stood there, mouth agape, one of my old colleagues came along carrying a sandwich bag and a cup of tea. “Sorry to hear you got the bullet mate,” he said. “The governor has already employed someone else,” he shook his head ruefully. “Him!” I spluttered, pointing through the glass at Ahmed. “That’s right,” he nodded. “Crafty old sod has employed him on minimum wage.”
Day Twenty Three: At least the police cell was warm and had a padded bench to sleep on. They gave me a cup of tea in the morning and said they were letting me off with a caution. They warned me that if I went back to my old place of work, I would be arrested for stirring up racial hatred. I vaguely remember being dragged from the showroom, shouting my throat raw and struggling, but can’t for the life of me recall a word of what I’d been saying.
I’m back on my park bench now. A kindly lady gave me a sandwich and a can of cola. Keep me going for now, but I’ve got no idea what I will do tomorrow.
I feel pretty sorry for myself. I’ve got nothing now and no one is offering me asylum. I don’t think I can keep my journal for much longer, either. This pen is starting to run out of ink and probably won’t work for much longer. It’s raining again and starting to get dark now and I