By Tina Cleveland Link blog
As she shuffled down the street, pulling her ripped shopping trolley, she reflected on where she had come from and where she had been. A far cry from where she was now. Her fat, chubby wrist which was once adorned by fine, sparkly diamonds, ached through pulling the trolley. All that wrapped around her wrist now was a rubber band that she pinged in times of stress. Her feet once pretty and encased in only the best Italian shoes, now were home to pumps and holey socks. She trudged round the streets, her wispy, grey hair crying out for a brush and a John Frieda wash and condition. She had nowhere to go, her friends had deserted her, still living the high life, whilst her calendar of events still sat on a WH Smith shelf. She hadn’t required a social calendar for some years now.
She passed The Dorchester with her head bowed, she didn’t want to be recognised, not that she would, in her tatty mac and Primark joggers. Who would think that this tramp like figure, once rented a suite there on a yearly basis, but only actually attended maybe for two weeks of that? Who would think that this woman, who once dined with the likes of Tom Cruise and Robert Redford, would now be scrounging in bins for discarded food. As she looked up, she caught a flash of light from out of the corner of her eye. Across the road, just on the edge of Hyde Park, stood a man pointing a camera at her, she had seen enough of them in her time to know it was a reporter. He had to be shooting the hotel, not her. She shuffled along, her head slightly tilted to one side, away from the lens. It didn’t seem that long ago she would have courted the press, made sure she was seen by any passing camera that flashed at her. Her hair and makeup would have been perfect and her dress, well that would have been designer. She stopped outside The Hilton, another old haunt, taking a backward glance at the man, his lens had followed her down the road, quickly she hobbled away and out of sight. She reached for the band around her wrist and tugged at it until it thwacked back onto her grubby wrists, the problem was reality bit at her heals constantly, especially at night when the cardboard box offered no protection from the elements.
The number 23 pulled up hiding her from view, giving her the opportunity to haul her shopping trolley on and fumble in her pocket for her bus pass, her life line and one of her few possessions. She sat huddled up against the back of the bus, with her trolley parked on the floor between her and the aisle by way of a barrier. The truth was that, unless someone was absolutely desperate for a seat, she would be safe. She glanced out of the rear window and watched as the roving reporter disappeared from view as the bus circled the Royal Artillery Memorial and stopped at Hyde Park Corner bus stop. She liked the bus, it was warm and had a comforting smell, it was so much better than the dusty old pavement, that reeked of piss and vomit. The bus pass was her lifeline to normality, she was a somebody on the bus, another customer, not someone, living in the doorway, that was only good for a good kicking when some kids had nothing better to do. When the pavement got a bit full and she wasn’t visible to the marching feet she would frequently take one in the head or leg, a bruise was her new make up trend. It was futile to yell back so she just accepted it. The bus rounded the bend onto Kensington High Street, she contemplated getting off at Kensington Palace and walking to Boots, but even the extra few minutes in the warm and cosy bus was a treat. Her leg was hurting and the thought of trudging any longer didn’t really appeal. It was too early to go rummaging in Prezzo’s bins for some stale pizza, which was a shame as her stomach was making some really loud lurching sounds. It was probably down to the discarded bagel she had eaten that morning. It was all part of life, she wondered why no one discarded a half-finished bottle of vodka though, that would have washed the bagel down nicely.
As she pulled out her stained sleeping bag and old tatty blanket from her shopper, she settled down for the night. It was only 6:00pm, but if she was lucky someone would toss her a quid on their way home from work. Boot’s doorway wasn’t ideal but it was better than nothing. Sleeping wasn’t much of an option on the street, she could probably manage twenty to thirty minutes undisturbed at a time. It was funny how the constant screech of tyres and the roaring of the car engines became soothing after a while, especially when you were so dog tired from constantly walking all day. As day turned into night and the commuters had finished their commute, then the night scene erupted. This was the worst time as the night wore on and people got drunk then that’s when the kicking started. She was used to curling up in a ball and camouflage herself as a pile of sheets. The kicking she could cope with it was the men urinating on her that was the hardest to bear. The damp, feeling she could tolerate as eventually it dried, but the rancid stench followed you. It was a constant reminder that to them you were just somewhere to relieve themselves. She usually tried to get her head down until about 2-3am, then it was scavenging time in the bins for the remains of a good night down the pub, followed by a kebab or whatever late-night snack the revellers fancied. Beggars couldn’t be choosers but she was amazed by the amount of food that was discarded. The best night she had was when, two couples had just visited Five Guys for a takeaway, an argument had ensued, resulting in four, less than half eaten burgers with fries being thrown onto the ground. They weren’t even placed in the bin, meaning no delving in to recover the contents. She thought all her Christmases had come at once. There was too much for her to eat so she passed some onto Clive, another familiar vagrant who she had come to idle chit chat with from time to time.
As morning broke, she folded up her belongings and put them back into her shopper to start another day of trudging. She passed High Street Kensington tube station just as the latest edition of The Metro was hitting the stands.
‘“Riches to Rags” – From marrying a Prince, to living as a pauper’ and there in full colour were two pictures, her now and her twenty years ago. A tear silently slipped down her face.