I had a bad night last night. The dreams that visited me colluded to tangle my fifteen tog duvet and threw all four of my soft plump pillows onto the floor. I must have woken five or six times and it took me an age of counting to fall back into slumber. Yes a very bad night for poor, poor me. Maybe I should try sleeping on the streets.
There's a romance around living on the edge. In our world we have it all so very easy in so many ways; we get soft, self satisfied. I ease my conscience by giving to charity, cry sometimes when I see the injustice and pain in the world. It makes me feel better about myself, and I usually sleep soundly at night, all the realities of poverty and pain going away until the next time I am so ungraciously reminded that I am supremely fortunate to have been born into a country that has so much. There is a part of me that wishes to walk in their shoes, but it's that part of me that sees romanticism in everything. I wouldn't last a week without my cosy bed and central heating and yet I still sometimes walk past the rough sleepers in our own cities and move past as quickly as I can. I must be a monster because, there but for the grace of a God I don't believe in, go I.
Once when I was in
India I saw a young girl, no more
than seven or eight, carrying a small roll of thick polythene along the road.
She was clutching it to herself like it was the most valuable thing in the
world. I asked the driver why she was carrying the polythene and he replied
that it was her shelter and at night she would find a place, wrap herself in it
and try to sleep. To her it was the most valuable thing in the world. It was
her home, perhaps even her life. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
I remember seeing people wrapped in blankets and asleep just off the main streets in Bangalore. Not a few, but scores and scores. In cities all over
India when night falls thousands of
people hire blankets from the blanket Mafia, a group of street vendors who hire
out dirty blankets by the night. Their customers settle down in the streets in
an attempt to get some sleep and keep warm to survive the night. They call
these blanket hirers sleep vendors and they are highly organized and officially
nonexistent. The sleep vendors divide the pavements and public spaces into
quadrants and when night comes their customers arrange themselves into
blanketed townships of bodies. Some of these people have come back to the same
spot every night for years. They call it home too I guess.
It’s easy to see the sleep vendors as making money out of other people’s misery. But they provide a service when no other options exist. I don’t applaud them, but at least they are doing something that helps; so who the hell am I to judge them as I toss and turn in featherbed luxury?
Here in the
we have thousands of people sleeping rough in our cities. The problem isn’t on
the same scale as many other parts of the world but we are a very rich nation
and empty buildings abound in our streets. Five minutes walk from where I live
is a huge old YWCA Hostel. It’s been shuttered for at least 10 years and stands
like a magnificently empty citadel when it could shelter hundreds. Of course it
is scheduled to be converted into luxury apartments at some point, but would it
really be so hard to open it up a few to let people sleep there out of the wind
and cold at night until then? I’m sure there would be volunteers to help. I
might even volunteer myself.
My mind often goes back to that young girl in
her roll of polythene. I wonder did she survive and what she is doing now. I
didn’t know what to say then, and I don’t know what to say now, so I say
No wonder I can’t sleep at night.
No wonder I can’t sleep at night.