On my way to A and A this morning (it’s a pharmaceutical company), I realised that I’d taken the same route I used to take when I lived in Guillotière last year. While it made me late for the third time this week, it was worth it because it gave me the chance to check out how Old Matey was getting on, my name for the homeless man we met in Lyon 15.
As I approached his patch I expected nothing but shadows. The homeless don’t get the luxury of long term lets. They’re lucky to get a night before being moved on. So I was warmed, despite the freezing cold, to see him still there. His belongings neatly packed and stored under the shop’s awning just as before.
His morning routine hadn’t changed either. 9.01am: on the wall cupping a coffee, cigarette slowly burning in his right hand as though on a 1950s film set in the Cote d’Azur. Perfectly calm while the rest of us zipped up our North Face jackets against the biting wind.
But how long could this last? As I looked into the once closed-down shop. The signs weren’t good. Work was being done inside. I could tell by the blare of a workman’s radio playing the worst that French pop music has to offer. Not that it seemed to bother him like it bothered me. As I came to the front of the shop and gave him a nod, I realised the reason behind the racket inside.
Ouverture bientôt. Vous nouveau magasin: INTERMARCHE EXPRESS.
This was the end then. Soon he would be kicked out of his homely shelter by the French equivalent of Tesco Express and no one would care. In a few months when the customers are filing in through the entrance to the brand new convenience store, no one will think that yesterday this was someone’s home. ‘But he was just a beggar. He had no right to sleep here,’ I already hear the stuffy residents of the Third Arrondisement mutter.
‘Fine,’ Old Matey might counter if he had the chance, ‘then perhaps you don’t mind if I take a kip in your house for a few hours, seeing as you think it’s fine to walk through mine.’
I wasn’t sure why I had taken this route in the first place. A last minute decision to avoid cycling up the rat run that is Rue Part Dieu. Every day I’m nearly killed by motorists trying their absolute hardest to make pâté out of me.
‘There he is, he escaped yesterday but I’ve got him now,’ they lick their lips at the prospect. ‘If I accelerate at the corner of Vendome and Crequi just as the lights turn red, I’ll catch his left leg with my front bumper and send him flying into the concrete bollards on Place Guichard that separate life from death.’
It seems to happen every day at the moment. French winter road rage is something you don’t put yourself and your bicycle between.
So it was good to pedal up Rue Sala for a change. And a bonus to see that Old Matey was still alive. Watching us buying our Christmas gifts that if spent on other things could give people like him somewhere decent to live. Instead, we spit on him like a rat. Sneer at him because he’s poor and hungry. Applaud when a dog hoses down his leg with urine. Throw it a scrap of Christmas foie gras in payment for the entertainment and then kick the poor bugger down for not saying thank you for being pissed on. A wonderful wonderful world.
As for me, I’m off to A + A to sell some more of my already tattered soul. Sitting in a superheated classroom for three hours listening to people tell me about the latest products that make fat people thin. Gay people straight. Poor people rich. Thinking about Old Matey sitting on the wall drinking his sweet coffee, smoking his cigarettes. Watching the world go gently by.