The day they took the homeless away
It was a bright but cold April morning when they came to take the homeless away. The majority of the workers in the office-retail park didn’t even notice – at most it was a fleeting thought, Oh, those smelly beggars and winos weren’t hanging round any more, swilling cheap wine and bothering everyone for “the price of a cup of tea”. But Emily noticed. For a while now she had become aware of one girl, maybe pretty under the greasy mop of hair and tatty overcoat – Emily had realised that the girl was probably the same age her own child would have been, if Emily hadn’t had the undifferentiated cluster of cells chemically removed a decade and a half ago. That was when Emily had started to buy an extra cheese roll and polystyrene cup of tea from the snacks booth at the top of the stairs from the underground car park. The girl liked her tea white with two sugars – Emily wondered if that was how her never-quite-child would have taken her tea if she… hadn’t had the procedure.
So that was why Emily saw the girl and her friends being escorted down the car park stairs and into a large white minivan, unmarked but with blacked-out windows that suggested there was room for lots of passengers. Emily was usually quiet and unassuming, but the rapport she felt had grown between her and the girl drove her to walk over to the van and ask one of the black-uniformed security guards what was going on. Where were these people being taken to?
The guard looked surprised at the use of the word “people”, but recovered his professional demeanour quite quickly. There had been complaints, he explained, so these… people were going to be bussed somewhere more suitable.
When Emily asked where this more suitable location might be, the guard was visibly perplexed. But the professional, emotionless expression quickly reappeared. He didn’t know where they were going, he said, he wasn’t driving the van. His job was simply to make sure that all the… people got in. Then he looked down at the paperwork on his clipboard. The conversation was definitely over.
Before the girl got into the van, Emily passed her the drink and roll she had bought for her. The girl silently took the gift, but didn’t look up. As the girl disappeared into the blacked-out van, Emily had to take a deep breath to suppress a sudden feeling of nausea. Somehow, Emily knew she would never see the girl again.