Balmy summer evening after work and the first World cup game is on. Make my way to a bar near St Pauls. As I scan the courtyard I see guys in smart suits and girls in pencil skirts and heels, mingling, flirting and all the usual goings on with such social surroundings. There are also a sprinkling of scantily clad promo girls successfully enticing young men to either buy more drinks or sign up to one scheme or the other. The bar was packed, took ages to get to and I thought this place must be making so much money as people walk away with bottles of wine, beer, cocktails etc. People had money to spend clearly. What they spent it on is where it gets interesting.
As the evening progressed and thousands more pounds exchanged over the bar, I see the same sea of people steadily get intoxicated. Slowly making his way through the crowd I see a man walking around with a box of lighters. Just like the promo girls, he to was trying to sell to the public. The only difference being that the promo girls were highly profitable with their products. The people didn’t seem to take much interest in the lighters, nor the person selling them. I watched him go from one group to another just to get ignored. I didn’t know this guy but many questions came to mind at the time….
What must it feel like to continually get ignored and rejected?
Does he become numb to it or does it actually hurt more each time?
What are the people thinking when he goes up to them? Are they like oh no the tramp is here. Ignore.
Why such inequality between the promo girls and the lighter man? After all they both do the same job…selling. In fact the lighter man wanted only £1 compared to the costly drinks of the promo girls.
Why not just give him that £1? What real loss will it be to them and what gain it could be for the man? If every person there was spending approximately £20 on alcohol, then what is each person gave the man £1. Without much loss in their lifestyle, they could change his life significantly for the near future.
Anyway the mind was full of such thoughts and questions until I got interrupted, by the lighter man….
We talked and we talked and we talked. About his circumstances which led him here. Homeless life in London, the dangers of alcohol, the shame he feels when retrieving food from bins. How nobody cares, people just walk on by, some even abuse him. He talks about the car park where he tries to sleeps, the place is full of squawking pigeons and mice scuttling around so he can’t sleep. When it comes to daytime and he walks the street to make money selling lighters, he often collapses due to sleep deprivation.
Where he sleeps is just off the financially lucrative streets of London’s financial district. living side by side but worlds apart. Do people care? Can more be done? How? People won’t save a fellow human in such a situation but instead they will ply themselves with alcohol in an attempt to have more “fun”, be more confident and feel better in some way it appears.
Through all the pain I could see hope. He talked about his son having a child. 1st time to be grandad and wants to fix himself up so he can visit them. There is not much difference between me and all these people he said. They are only a few steps away from becoming like me. It only takes a one mishap. So why do people ignore him and many others like that? Are they scared or does it just not enter their mind as they think they are immune to any such problems.
By now the place was heaving, but the initial buzz of the crowd and the promo girls all faded into the back of my mind and all I could see was the lighter guy. His name was Darren. I bought a lighter and gave him some almonds. We both walked away in our own directions with a lot more than we had before we met.
I went to see him a few days later and when we met he told me that after that night, he walked back to his car park with a big smile, not because of the money but because someone was interested in his story.