My entry is about homelessness during the holiday season, a major issue that most of us don’t even think about. I also had the extra challenge of weaving three prompts into my story of maximum 800 words. Here are the prompts I used:
And now for my entry –
COFFEE AT CHRISTMAS
I traced the familiar constellations of freckles on my face in the shop window, my grey eyes hiding shyly from myself behind their lashes, my cold fingers examining the contours of my face and the dry pinkness of my lips. I shivered and wrapped my bony, threadbare grey sweater clothed arms round my chest, searching in myself for a reason to go on. I didn’t look all that good. I saw tiredness, hunger and a large helping of grime in my reflection, but I didn’t care. What’s the point in looking good when people just ignore you anyway? Winter on the streets is tough, especially at Christmas.
Behind me, the lights twinkled, entwined around trees lining the roads. The shops buzzed with activity. People exuded joy and laughter and they walked down the street to the rhythm of Jingle Bells. I sat on the ground and leant back against the wall, hugging my knees and closing my eyes.
I sat up sharply, automatically crawling into a defense position, bracing myself for the inevitable kick or volley of verbal insults I knew would come. I waited for a few seconds, muscles tensed, but nothing happened. Slowly I raised my head. A man crouched in front of me, his expression far from threatening. His eyes were soft and smiling. In his gloved hand he held a coffee. He looked at me and then down at the brimming paper cup. Wordlessly, he held it out.
I blinked. “I-I…”
He put it down by my feet and walked away. I stared down at the whirlpooling cup, soft steam rising into cold air. It hypnotised me and yet I couldn’t bring myself to drink it, so gripped was I with shock at this unfamiliar kindness.
I looked up. The man was walking down the pavement towards me, an identical cup of coffee in his hand. I allowed a small, slow smile to spread across my face. He had more of an O Christmas Tree stride, I decided with satisfaction.
He sat down next to me, leaning back against the wall and raising his cup in a sort of silent toast. I raised mine in solidarity and, though I didn’t know what he was toasting, in my own mind I was thanking him for his simple act of kindness that meant so much.
He didn’t look at me or talk, just quietly sipped his hot drink and watched the people on the other side of the road. However, I felt his presence enormously. He didn’t feel like a stranger, more like an old friend. Only when, after a few moments, I picked up my cup and took a long gulp, did he turn his head in my direction and give a quick nod.
As I drank, filling my belly with the warm and flowing liquid, I wondered about his life. Many questions flooded into my mind, all of which I was too afraid to ask for answers to.
We both drained the dregs at exactly the same moment, setting our cups down on the pavement in syncrony. A little laugh escaped my lips. He smiled, speaking for the first time.
“I had a sister just like you.”
I kept quiet, just replaying his voice over and over in my mind. It sounded heavenly to me, the voice of an angel.
“She died when I was ten, but, as I got older, I imagined her growing up with me. Right now, I can see her looking just like you. The same auburn hair, freckles, smile.” He shrugged. “It sounds stupid, I know.”
I wanted to tell him that I was sorry, but no words came out. They never did. So instead I just smiled. He seemed to understand.
“She loved this street.” he ran his fingers over the ragged ridges of my rumpled, mouldy blanket. “You see that coffee shop over there?” he pointed to a cosy looking cafe lit up by flickering lights.
“I see it.” I told him.
“Well, she’d sit in there every day, pretty much. Writing. Scribbling everything down. Thoughts, feelings, ideas, plans, dreams. She could express them all, through words. That’s something I never could do.”
“Me neither.” I said. You, um, fancy another coffee?”
He looked at me in surprise.
“Let’s go.” I took his hand and led him across the street. He didn’t relent as we dodged the cars, nor as I pushed open the door to the cafe and felt the welcoming embrace of the warmth from inside. A voice brought the man back from his memories.
We both looked across at the barrister who had spoken. With an awkward chuckle he pointed at the mistletoe above our heads. We both smiled, but the man spoke first. “Oh no, it would be like kissing a sister.”
So there you go! What did you guys think?