My Name is Harry
by Asha Sutton.
Asha is a second year Creative Writing student at the University of Gloucestershire. Her stories show her passion for social issues and the treatment of the vulnerable in modern society.
My name is Harry
I swear that’s the man who worked at the local coffee shop.
He spilled the sugar on the floor behind the counter, with an “Oh shit” expression. He rattled tall, skinny glasses, or turned on the coffee machine, to show he was busy. He served me at the till, hands shaky and sweaty as he took my change. When he finished my order, he put it down on the coaster. I frowned at him for spilling my drink, wiped it up with a serviette and headed off to work. His hair was effortlessly gelled back, his clothes were stylish and his stubble, designer. Sometimes on my way back from work, I’d see him locking up at six, or sixfifteen once he’d found the right key, then shrug on his blue rucksack and walk home.
After retiring, I now see Harry on the same High Street he walked down. The blue rucksack looks much lighter and is fading to brown. The stubble has become a thick, knotty beard. A grey, worn flat cap collapsed on the floor collects and holds a few pennies and a scrunched-up bus ticket with yesterday’s date on it. He grips a Gregg’s cup. The steam filters into the air as he sips it slowly.
A woman stops to talk and presses her weight against the wall to support herself. She reaches into her polka-dot bag and pulls out a small purse decorated with dogs. She fishes out a one-pound coin. She puts the pound coin in the palm of his scruffy hand. How can I help, My name is Harry, blesses the woman and puts the money into his flat cap. Harry crosses his legs and huddles up in a blanket. The rain spits and spots the floor around him.
Penelope from gym class walks her border collie Suzie and rushes towards the park, bowing her head down to the floor to avoid Harry. A man wearing a prestige suit rushes out of the corner shop to avoid the rain and shakes his head at Harry. It’s raining heavily on the streets of Bristol. Puddles form shapes on the roads and pavements, creating mini ponds that children wearing wellies splash and jump in.
Harry sits under the Poundland entrance, but his feet get wet from fine pieces of rain blown in by the wind. He picks up his worn and dirty duvet, flattens it down and sits on it.
Perched in the doorway, Harry tries to catch people’s eye. The town comes alive for lunch. Fruit stalls shout and bargain their stock, women’s heels rattle, tip tap and clack on the town centre’s concrete and people speed up like powered machines, passing the rough sleeper. A man drops five pence into the hat and rushes off. When the High Street quietens down, Harry counts his money and sees a seagull strut past him, searching for leftovers hanging out of the bins. Harry throws over a crumb to the bird before lying back in silence, sitting on top of his things.
After rush hour, Harry stands up, organises his belongings and puts his things into his rucksack. I squint over to see if he has alcohol in his bag, but I can only see a blanket. Harry puts his bag on his back and walks down the High Street for somewhere to sleep.
Every morning I sit at the Bean, at a similar table, exactly opposite Poundland. I see Harry sitting in the same spot. I see his rucksack and the occasional plastic cup next to him. After hesitating a moment, I decide to guzzle down my Flat White and collect my things. Walking across the road, using my jacket as an umbrella, I head towards Poundland where Harry is sitting.
Coming up close to him, his eyes are black with exhaustion and his fingernails are stained with dirt. I see his brown, stained teeth that look like they haven’t been brushed in weeks. His blanket has multiple holes and is as thin as a sheet of paper. The wind now gets tougher and I can feel goose bumps spreading over my arms.
‘Can I ask you something?’
‘If I give you some change, will you spend it on drugs or alcohol?’
‘It’s just what you hear, isn’t it.’
‘I buy food and drink.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I saw some other rough sleepers drinking and smoking, though—’
‘But I’m not them?’
‘I guess not’
‘They use fags and booze to get by.’
‘And you don’t?’
‘You worked at the Bean, didn’t you? Over there?’
‘I used to come in every morning before work.’
‘I seemed to be so stressed all the time.’
‘I got annoyed at the smallest things.’
‘Like when you spilled my drink one time.’
‘Don’t be. I shouldn’t have got annoyed at stupid things like that.’
Harry stares off vacantly towards the High Street where shops fill in and out with people. The rain falls harder and crashes on the roof above us. I zip up my jacket and fold my arms.
‘Sorry for assuming—’
‘It’s fine. I don’t blame you to be fair.’
‘The alkies and druggies give us a bad name.’
‘It was rude of me.’
‘It’s fine.’ Harry bends forward and re-counts his money from his flat cap.
‘How much do you have?’
‘Enough for some food.’
‘Have this too.’ I drop a pound into his flat cap.
‘Nah it’s okay.’
‘It’s only a pound, don’t worry.’
‘Not gonna buy a can of larger, haha.’
‘Haha, maybe just a water bottle.’
Harry stares off towards the coffee shop. His eyes are fixed on it and his concentration is broken by a dog playfully barking at the bus stop.
Harry’s stomach rumbles and groans and he holds onto it in an attempt to quieten it down. ‘Yeah, all good.’ His face is pale and his lips are cut and bitten, leaving torn skin and dry blood.
‘When was the last time you ate?’
Harry fiddles with his shoelaces and adjusts his sleeping bag. A little boy no more than five puts ten pence in his flat cap and his mother directs him towards the high street.
‘Do you want me to get you something from Greggs?’
‘Nah, don’t worry about it.’
‘It’s the least I can do. What do you want?’
‘I mean, a sausage roll would be mint.’
‘Okay. And a tea?’
‘Don’t go out ya way—’
‘I’m going there anyway. Sugar?’
‘Okay, won’t be a sec.’
By the time I got back from Greggs, Harry had cleared away his things and spread his blanket out on the floor.
After placing two sausage rolls and a tea on the floor next to Harry, I unzipped my jacket and sat crossed-legged on the floor. Harry shovelled down the sausage rolls and guzzled up the tea. He stopped and took some air from burning the inside of his mouth. I took small mouthfuls of my cheese and onion pasty and Diet Coke whereas Harry’s food was gone. He was left with crumbs around his mouth and down his top.
Harry picked up the fallen crumbs and chewed on them slowly, preserving every taste. Staring at the tiny pieces of food, I noticed his clothes. He was wearing an oversized Navy jumper and grey joggers that were stained, the colour fading away. The Adidas name on his trainers had faded on the side and piles of mud had built up on the bottom of his shoe. The rain was showering off the dirt and mud.
‘Do you usually sit here? Outside this shop?’
‘This is my spot, ya know. My patch. I like to watch the people.’
‘Only thing I got to do.’
‘There’s nowhere for you to go?’
‘Sometimes in the day.’
‘But nowhere at night?’
‘The park I guess. Up the top.’
I looked over to the coffee shop where Harry had worked. I remember when he brought hot drinks out to the outside tables. He spilt them on the tray and put them down on the table quickly to hurry back inside.
‘Did you get fired from there?’
Staring back at the shop, we saw the coffee shop full and busy with customers. Staff members ran in and out constantly to bring out drinks, take orders and clean up again and again.
‘Came to work late.’
‘My dad kicked me out because I’m gay.’
‘That and he’s an alky.’
‘That why you don’t drink?’
Another woman threw ten pence in the hat, causing Harry to wipe his eyes with his dirty sleeve and pick up the hat. He emptied the money into his hand and re-counted.
‘How about I buy us a Greggs again? Tomorrow?’
‘You not busy?’
‘Not really. I’m retired.’
‘Why you getting me food? Being nice?’
‘I was such a snob when I worked.’
‘Bet you wasn’t.’
‘No, I was. Retiring has made me realise what’s important.’
‘Like you. You seem like a nice guy.’
‘I want to help. Even if it’s buying the odd sausage roll for you.’
‘Mike. My name’s Mike.’
‘Cheers Mike. I’m Harry.’
‘I know. I remember your name badge from the Bean.’
Using my hands to push myself up, I adjusted my belt and tucked in my top underneath my jacket. I picked up the Gregg’s packaging and put it in the bin next to the shop entrance.
‘Maybe I’ll get you a cake to go with that sausage roll tomorrow.’
‘Same time tomorrow? Here?’
‘Yep. Cheers Mike. See ya.’
Walking past Harry and down the High Street, I saw more rough sleepers. It was coming up to 3pm and I had spotted three young sleepers on the promenade. They all looked alike; rucksacks, dirty blankets and sitting crossed-legged on the floor trying to get money from the people who dashed past. Puddles lay still on the ground as the rain had now stopped. Instead, a chilly breeze wafted in the air, making my legs work quicker to make the bus. Waving my arm out before it pulled away, I paid and sat down at the back of the 15A bus. Just made it.
It snowed overnight. Sitting at my preferred table in the Bean, waiting for my usual medium Flat White, I glanced over to the Poundland entrance. My view wasn’t great but I could see Harry’s bag and belongings. A plastic cup was trapped in a pile of snow and filled right up to the top.
Heavy snow was falling. I wrapped my heavy coat around me and pulled out two black gloves from my pocket. I zipped up my coat, knocked back my drink and wandered over to where Harry would be.
Harry was on the floor as his thin, hole-ridden blanket hanging off his arms. His grip held his things tightly close to him. His icy hands looked stuck to his arms and his lips glared a pale blue.
Shaking his arms, I moved his bag out of the way and felt his chest. His skin was freezing. I called his name out and shook him until he stirred and struggled to open his eyes.
‘Harry, are you okay?’
I could see Harry’s lips parting, trying to reply but the cold ice froze his lips.
‘We’re taking you to hospital.’
Harry shook his head and held my hand.
‘Yes Harry, you’re freezing.’
I dialled the local taxi rank, watching Harry’s eyes blink slowly and then stare off down the High Street.
‘Okay Harry, it’s coming.’
Harry’s feet were buried in the snow. I pulled them out and brushed them off, taking off my coat and wrapping it around Harry’s body.
‘You’ll be alright, you know.’
A taxi pulled up. I knocked on the window to check it was ours. Going back over to Harry, I stuffed all of his things into his rucksack and threw it over my arm. I gently pulled Harry up and put his hand over my waist. I helped Harry into the taxi, pushing his head down to avoid banging it on the roof. I clicked his seatbelt in and ran over to the other side.
‘Hospital please, as quick as you can.’