Hawks cross, p.1
Hawk's Cross, page 1
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David lives with his wife, Louellan, in South Wales, UK. They have four grown children and live together with their cat, Chester, and their psychotic black dog, Martin.
First published in Great Britain in 2017
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Copyright © 2017 David Collenette
The right of David Collenette to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in
any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published andwithout a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This work is entirely fictitious and bears no resemblance to any persons living or dead.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
To my wife, Louellan, for having all the best ideas (apparently);
to Graham Jacobson, who finally admitted he was wrong;
and to Eric J Collenette, thanks for the genes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
On the day before my life changed forever and I descended into a nightmare even my imagination couldn’t conjure up, I was sitting in the dark at the bottom of a wardrobe, which gave me a fair amount of time for contemplation.
My name is Matthew Hawk and, like I said, I’m sitting at the bottom of a wardrobe in the dark and not for the first time. It’s pretty cramped and I’m losing feeling in my crunched-up legs but it’s nearly 5pm and I’ll be OK to climb out soon.
This hotel room’s been cleaned and once 5pm comes and goes there’s only a very small chance that someone will come to check on the room. Then I can swing the bolt over and hopefully have the room to myself for the night.
You see, I’m homeless. Well, not homeless exactly but I don’t have a home. I hate the phrase ‘homeless’ as it raises images of dirty, drunken bums smelling of urine and drinking out of Special Brew cans, although I’ve met a fair number of them in my time on the streets. I choose to be without a home and have done so quite successfully for the past eight years. I’m twenty-three (I think).
As a baby I was abandoned at a police station with a note which read, “I thought I wanted a baby but I don’t. His name’s Matthew. Please give him to someone who wants a baby.”
Unfortunately the wheels of government turn slowly and not often in an obvious direction, and I ended up in a care home while they searched for my parents, who they never found.
The care home was called Greyhill and the perfectly dismal name suited it down to the ground. I slept in a dorm room with three other boys, ate mediocre food and suffered the dark sarcasm and bullying from the staff and older children on a regular basis.
One of the worst was a guy called Clive Grundy. He usually took the nightshift and seemed to thrive on persecuting the kids in his care. You’d have to check your bed before you got into it as it was common for him to throw in a handful of ants or spiders. He’d take stuff from you, slap you and demean you in pretty much any way possible.
You’d hear him arrive as he drove some souped-up car which he assumed made him attractive to something and swaggered about as if he was God’s gift to the world.
He hated me. I saw through him and he could tell. I have a gift for seeing what people want. I don’t mean like a new car, or thinner waist or passing an exam; I mean things that really matter, like escaping from an oppressive relationship, writing a book, travelling the world. Big things; things that lie at the heart of us.
I don’t know what this is, it’s like a well-tuned intuition which makes me able to perceive what a person wants; what they desire most.
What Clive desired was attention and respect. When he bullied the others I would watch him and if he caught my eye he’d turn his attention on me. He’d punch me and call me demeaning names. One of his favourite tricks was to kick open the door when you were sitting on the toilet and throw wet towels at you.
None of it was that bad in isolation but it was pretty constant and frustrating. Many of the kids truly feared him. One of the boys from another room (Peter) used to wet the bed and I’m pretty sure it was in part due to the bullying from Clive. Of course, the bed-wetting just gave him more fuel for his cruel fire.
However, it seems that wanting and getting are two separate things. One morning I was woken by some kid screaming in the bathroom. We all ran to see what happened and when we got to the corridor we found James, one of the boys from across the landing, standing in the hall staring into the bathroom and crying.
I went closer to see what was upsetting him and there we saw Clive. He’d hung himself with a twisted-up shower curtain from a heating pipe above the toilet.
I’ll never get that image out of my head. Twisting slowly, his head was bent forward, his eyes half open with an engorged, purple tongue just poking through his teeth. He wore a T-shirt and his arms hung loosely by his side, his hands and lower arms purple where the blood had pooled post-mortem.
The front of his trousers were soaked from where his bladder had emptied and, judging by the smell, that wasn’t the only waste that found its way out.
Moments later, Marie (one of the day staff) arrived, screamed and yelled for help. The other two day staff turned up, and we were led downstairs and sat in the day room while ambulances and police arrived.
We stared blankly at the TV, not really watching what was going on and turned our heads to the door only when they brought down a large white bag which obviously held Clive’s body.
Things were OK for a while. We had a few ‘special doctors’ come to talk to us about the incident, although most of us just wanted to forget it and to be truthful I think most of us were secretly glad he did it.
I must have been around twelve when that happened. By the age of fifteen I’d had enough of the place and decided it was time to leave.
It might have been a cliché, but I ran away to London. For the first few years I lived hard on the streets, scrounging for food, running from danger and sleeping wherever I could.
However, eventually I started to pick up on certain opportunities to get myself more comfortable and I’ve developed these opportunities quite well – which might not be apparent seeing as I’m currently squashed into the corner of a dark wardrobe, but it’s a pretty good life really.
From that moment in the bathroom at Greyhill, I realised that people don’t really know what they want.
I push the door open and roll out of the wardrobe. First, I swing across the security catch on the door. It’s like a security chain but instead of a chain it’s a brass elongated loop which folds over a brass ball.
If someone opens the door from the outside it will open a crack but they’ll not be able to open it enough to come in. Not able to gain access they’ll head off to get someone from maintenance. At that point I’ll slip out and away before they get back.
I’ve got this down to quite an art. It started by accident. Some time ago I was sniffing around a hotel and came across a bunch of their housekeeping staff standing out the back of the building, smoking.
They seemed friendly enough and we got into conversation. They asked me if I was working in the laundry and I said I’d just started.
For the next few days I joined them at their breaks, asking them about what they did and how the system worked.
To cut a long story short, I worked out that I could use a hotel for free when I needed to without anyone being any the wiser.
I wait until about three o’clock. By then, all of the rooms which are expecting guests have been cleaned ready for 2pm check-ins. The rooms still being cleaned are the ones likely to remain unoccupied. I then hang around the floor where the cleaners are and wait for one of them to bring out the dirty linen. This usually means that they’ve changed the beds, towels etc. and are just ready to finish off restocking. Often this requires them to head off to the store room, which is normally located near the lifts.
Once out of sight, I’ll slip into the room and into the wardrobe to wait. I’ve done this more times than I can count and I’ve only been caught twice: once by a cleaner restocking pillows and once by a guy standing over the bed while I was asleep (I’d forgotten to fold the bolt over and he was a last-minute room change).
On the way into the room today I’d grabbed a spare towel, some shower soap, a couple of tea bags and some milk sachets from a trolley in the corridor. The trick is to leave the room exactly as expected, so I’ve become an expert at hotel bed making and never use anything left for the room.
I head to the bathroom and strip off my clothes. I run a couple of inches of water in the bath and soak my clothes, washing them with body soap that I’d picked up from the trolley.
After rinsing them out, I wring them as dry as I can and lay them in a towel, twisting the towel over them to remove as much water as I can. I spread them out across the sink and shower myself.
Once showered, I hang the clothes over the bath on the pull-out washing line, dry myself in the towel I brought in with me and jump into bed.
I get a decent night’s sleep, somewhere to wash my clothes, TV, hot tea and a shower. I try to do this at least once a week.
I spend the evening watching TV and drinking tea. I start watching Cast Away with Tom Hanks but pass out before he learns to fish. I jolt awake with him screaming for his volley-ball friend ‘Wilson’, switch off the TV and go back to sleep.
I wake at 6am. After making sure my clothes are dry and the room is back to the way it should be I leave, dropping the towels down the corridor and the rubbish into a public bin.
Now it’s time to head home and collect my stuff. Yeah, I know I said I was homeless and I really am, but I do have a home of sorts. I’d better explain.
In the early days of being homeless, finding somewhere to sleep was the main priority. There are plenty of people out there wanting stuff that isn’t in your best interest, and finding somewhere secure to be asleep is important.
Many choose communal areas with others sleeping rough but I’m a naturally nervous person so I wanted to find somewhere as isolated as possible.
One day, walking through Soho, I’d been exploring an alley and noticed a thick metal drainpipe running up the side of an old building. Climbing it was pretty easy and at the top of the first roof I found a flat roof over an extension wedged between two other buildings. It was perfect; it couldn’t be seen from the alley or the street, there were no overlooking windows, no equipment that needed to be serviced occasionally. A completely private place, right in the centre of London.
Over the next two years I turned it into a home of sorts.
Plastic shipping crates fit together like Lego to form walls and, with the addition of some guttering strips, plastic sheeting makes the walls and roof rainproof.
For a door I have a flap of plastic sheeting and I also have a bed. I found an ambulance trolley-bed (if that’s what they’re called) outside a scrap merchant one evening. It was some distance away from my new home but it’s amazing how many people just leave you alone when you have a look of hurried annoyance on your face and an air of authority. “Stand aside please, coming through!” had people stepping aside so that I could push the wheeled bed along the street. People even helped me to get it up street curbs. Hoisting it up onto the roof was the most difficult part but with some rope and a copious amount of sweating I managed to get the job done.
Add some towels, blankets and pillows which bear an uncanny resemblance to the ones used by Marriott Hotels and voilà: my central London studio apartment. If you don’t mind peeing into a drainpipe it certainly beats paying London property prices and council tax.
Back ‘home’ I collect my stuff for the day and brush my teeth with a bottle of water and toothpaste (again, courtesy of Marriott). Personal hygiene is important; I learned that early on. People like to help homeless people much more if they don’t look and smell homeless. They much prefer to give a sandwich to someone who looks like they can take care of themselves and have eaten recently than to someone who obviously needs it.
My ‘stuff’ for today consists of a leather-effect PVC document wallet containing an A4 pad of plain paper and my box of pencils. I can draw really well and my main love is cartooning.
Couple my skills at cartooning with my unusual ability to read people’s wants and I can easily make a reasonable amount of spending money doing caricatures for people.
So, with my stuff in hand I head off to Trafalgar Square.
My method is to sit and watch people. When I see someone who looks like they’ll hang around a while I’ll sketch them briefly. I’ll then catch their eye and show them the picture. People are naturally vain and so they usually like the sketch, simple as it is.
At this point I’ll sigh and say, “Nah, it doesn’t catch the real ‘you’,” and I crumple it up and put it on the floor. Usually they’ll object and say that it was a good likeness. At that point I’ll engage them in conversation and wait for the magic to happen.
My gift works like this: I talk to people, ask them mundane questions about their family, job, etc. and then at some point in the next few minutes an impression will hit me. I don’t really know where it comes from but I’ll have a clear mental image of them doing something, often not related to anything we’ve been discussing.
One lady was telling me all about her dogs and I was getting bored when suddenly an image came to me of this woman running to an airport gate as her plane was boarding. She was laughing with excitement and ran through the gate and onto the plane just as the door was shut and the plane pushed back. I put my hand up and said, “Stop. Stop talking to me about dogs; it’s not what you really want. Wait,” and I started scribbling on my pad.
She stared at me, looking bemused as I scratched away but after a few minutes I was done and turned the picture to show her.
It showed her in caricature, sitting on the back of an eagle as it flew towards a rainbow. “This is what you want,” I said. “You need to fly, get away from a life you’ve fallen into and travel. You’ve been held back for too long and if you don’t do this
She stared at me for some time, her expression slowly turning to one of anguish. A tear formed in her eye. “I can’t,” she said.
“You can and you will,” I replied. “Take this and do what you have to do.”
She took the drawing and stared at it, the tear now running down her face. She squeezed her eyes shut and more tears forced themselves out and down her cheeks.
She opened her purse, pulled out some cash and shoved it into my hand.
“Thank you,” she whispered, barely loud enough for me to hear, the tears drying on her face and a tight smile beginning to show.
She took the drawing, stood up and walked away, wiping at her eyes with the heel of her hand.
I looked at my hands and noticed that she’d shoved a twenty pound note into it. Not bad for ten minutes’ work.
It was quite cool today, about average for September, and early enough for there not to be too many people here.
I took a walk down to the subway to buy a coffee and a breakfast roll and came back to sit on the steps.
That’s when I first noticed him.
Standing across from me, next to one of the lions near the waterfall was a man standing in a grey suit; not unusual in London.
What made this unusual was that he was looking directly at me and I had a feeling that I’d seen him before. Had he been watching me before?
Living on the streets taught you that attention was bad. The priority for living homeless was to blend into the background; be a grey person.
Any attention you might get living on the streets was more often than not going to be bad for you. I have been chased, punched, kicked, had people try to drag me off to God knows what and have had things taken from me. Not once has anyone approached me to tell me that I’d won an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.
I glanced around to see if there was anyone else close by that might be the focus of his attention but there was just me. I thought that maybe he’d become lost in one of those ‘fixed-stare’ moments but that theory was shot to bits when he looked down at his watch and then straight back to me.
by David Collenette have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes