I walked past a man checking his bank balance today and I swear on my grandmother’s grave I didn’t mean to look at the screen, but I did, and for a fleeting second I saw that he had less than five pounds. He said ‘no Christmas’ to himself, and shook his head. This man was just like you and I, he had no signs of being homeless or down and out, he looked tall and strong, competent and handsome. You could tell just by looking at him that someone loved him.
It is thanks to tidbits of strange and wonderful advice from beautiful black mamas on trains, in charity shops, at bus stops, walking pretty on the way to church and staring me down on footpaths only to break into laughter when I smile at their scorns – that I knew what to say. I’ve noticed that the problem is immaterial, it doesn’t belong between warm bodies, there is no room for a problem, no time for sorrow or hardship – there is only the dazzling present.
Standing drenched in Soho, road workers walked over to see who’d won the bet as to whether I was Arabic or not. Learning where I was actually from, and hearing that my family were very far away just like theirs – they went into elaborate detail about how to get a good job in a supermarket. The staff at my favourite cafe understand that I go there to be closer to my family, strangely, because cafes remind me of my mother. Not only do they give me staff discounts on my coffees, which are already very cheap, they keep my spirits up with funny stories and cocktails on the house now and again. When I walk into shops and the assistants are young women of colour, I don’t get followed around for fear of having something been taken, I get shown around with garments pointed out to me that are great for my wide hips.
I’ve been nurtured by incredible strangers, like the few bus drivers who have let me ride the bus free, shaking their head at my coins ‘you keep rising sister, one day you pull out notes!’ and the hard days I’ve walked London with tears in my eyes, praying to be struck down by lightening only to hear the universe call out from the mouths of cheeky boys ‘where’s your smile beautiful? show it off!’ I looked for coats in various charity shops and met the most wonderful people, one man asked me to help pick out shoes for his wife, he was a street cleaner on his break and he wanted to cheer her up seeing as it was getting so cold. One woman was looking for professional clothes, she was about to start her first office job at the age of 62, her dream since she was a girl in Ghana. I have realised that living has nothing to do with being alive, it’s what you’re living for that gives you life.
I stopped and waited behind the man at the cash machine. When he turned around with his eyes low, I gave him a big smile and I pointed at the sky, ‘it’s grey now, but you remember how blue and bright it was?’ He smiled back and nodded, walking away with a little bit of me and all the kind people of this land that have acknowledged my heavy, rising heart.