A Yorkshire man. Oxford Street.

It’s my birthday. It’s 14th December, strangely warm for this time of year- I wear a charity shop steal, a beautiful black and white Italian woollen charity shop purchased .

I’m late to meet my family. The family WhatsApp group is popping off, “I’m by Oxford Circus.” “

What? Thought we were meeting by Euston.”

“I’m here, Nike have the trainers I’ve been looking for.” We’ve lost the sixteen-year-old to shoes.

My birthday is the reason behind this uncharacteristic trip to Oxford Street. Makes sense doesn’t it, going for lunch and to buy something nice on your birthday. Right?

“I’m human, just like you, I’m here, look at me, I’m here, you can see me if you look, down here, I exist, I really do”.

I’m outside House of Fraser- gaudy red liquidation signs plastered all over the glass windows- another high street casualty.

I follow the voice. There’s a man sitting opposite the store swarmed by sale hungry Christmas shoppers. Cross legged on the floor, passers-by, stomp this way and that, some absorbed by the screens in their hand, others laughing loudly. There’s the odd family feud as well — it’s eleven days before Christmas on Oxford Street after all.

The voice. It’s a man, he’s selling the Big Issue. We get talking.

From Yorkshire initially. Came down here for work. Worked a little, then laid off. So often ignored, so often discarded by passers-by on the street.

“That’s why I just keen on shouting out”.

We talk some more, he used to be in military service. He’s lived all over the UK.

Lockdown had been tough, the government said no one should up and leave so he stayed put in the expensive, lonely London town as advised- “as the ministers commanded.” (Insert tone of bitter irony).

Recently he has saved enough money to get a train back home to see his brother for Christmas.

“Haven’t seen him in four years — first trip back.”

He can’t wait to get out of the city — “too many people don’t see me here”.

We talk some more, he wishes me a Happy Birthday. I buy the magazine- music to my Dad’s ears and a welcome distraction when we do wind up in Nike for aforementioned trainer shopping.

My phone buzzes, “Bond Street, too crowded here, we’ll meet there.”

“I’m talking, met a friend from Yorkshire, tell you about it later! Start without me, see you soon.”

“No prob- your birthday!”

Without a doubt the best conversation of my 26th birthday — perhaps of my 26th year.

The situation was a paradox, his message fell on some willing listeners yes.

“Most of these shoppers though, deaf and dingbats” he told me.

“It’s why I shout so loud, so often- as long as my voice hold out.

I’m human, just like you, I’m here, look at me, I’m here, you can see me if you look, down here, I exist, I really do”.

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