Another home

We are in the lull between meals, listening to the shrieks of the Monopoly game, and mulling over which film to watch. I sneaked away, thinking I’d just have time to do Sacha Black’s 120 second story challenge. Some hope. After two seconds I’m still staring at the clock and working out where the big hand will be in two seconds time. So I wrote this instead. It took about twenty minutes, if anyone’s interested.

768px-RO_B_new_Bucharest_apartment

That’s how they operate, bailiffs. They come with the police and a locksmith so you can’t keep them out. Your door swings open and a guy in a suit barges in with his clipboard and his writs, and the coppers stand either side so you can’t put your fist in his face. And the little bloke in the blue overalls packs up his tools and peers over their shoulders. His hard, beady eyes squint at you as if you’re something in a zoo. Then, as soon as he’s squared things about getting paid with the bailiff he’s off to his nice cozy place in the suburbs with a drive and a garage, and a bomb proof front door, and a wife and kids.

The bailiff goes round and notes down all the stuff he’s keeping back to put towards paying the arrears. The good stuff. The rest, most of it, his boys dump outside on the pavement. All I can do is watch. My fists clench and unclench, and I wonder if prison for assault would be worse than the street. But you get a record then, no hope of ever finding a job with a record. And there’s Jessie.

I stand outside, not watching, not feeling anything. The apartment’s a squalid place. I won’t shed any tears over it. But it kept the rain off and even without any heating it was warmer than outside. I had already put the important papers in a bag, with the photos of Mam and Dad, the kids when they were little. I tell myself the rest doesn’t matter. The things the bailiff wants, the TV, the stereo, they’re worth nothing. Not really.

He’s leaving with his little list. His boys are boarding up the apartment door. On the pavement, the breeze lifts the corner of a sheet, paper rustles, poverty stares at me from a dozen cardboard boxes. The neighbour from the floor above comes out, looks away when he sees all my bits and pieces lying there, spread out, like the innards of a butchered pig. He was about to light a fag but he catches sight of me and changes his mind. He’s off before I can touch him for the price of breakfast. Jessie whimpers and nudges my hand with her nose. I try to smile at her, but she knows, and licks my hand to cheer me up.

“Come on, old lass,” I say. “It’s finished here. This is the past now.”

Jessie pricks her ears and wags her tail uncertainly.

“Let’s go find us a future.”

I don’t know what Jessie says, but it sounds as though she’s up for it.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

22 thoughts on “Another home”

    1. Obviously it doesn’t happen during the trêve hivernale but during the summer I’ve seen so many sights like this. Poor people live in the worst housing because it’s cheapest. When the landlord improves his property to make it decent, the rent goes us and the former tenants are chucked out because they can’t afford the higher rent. The other side of embourgeoisement.

  1. In the UK last year 36% of the new homeless are as a result of tenancies ending and the tenants being told to leave, up from 10% 5 years ago. And the cuts in housing benefit aren’t to blame of course. Lovely if horribly true story Jane. This year at Crisis for Christmas we have our work cut out. The shift yesterday had 225 guests, and we are one of 8 shelters around London. So sad. So frustrating.

    1. I’ve no idea what the figures for Bordeaux are. Apart from the official shelters there are several associations that offer shelter and food to homeless or just plain poor people. Then there’s the refugee encampments which are growing like mushrooms. Every bit of park outside the posh areas has a cluster of tents on it, and on disused land the tents cover pretty big areas. So many different forms of poverty now, and from so many different sources. I admire you helping to tackle it.

  2. A very moving piece, Jane. Brings you back to reality with a bump after all the over indulgences of Christmas. We don’t even go that mad like some do, I am always gob-smacked at how over the top Irish Christmases are. But its good to get a reality check. Your story may be fiction, but sadly it’s real for many people.

    1. I know so many people who have spent at least a short time on the street because of gentrification. It’s just so unfair that they suffer indecent living conditions until the landlord decides to spend some money on his property bringing it up to standard, then he chucks out his tenants because they can’t afford the new rent.

      1. I don’t know how they can do it. The cat woman next door lived for years in the attic of the building, no insulation, no heating. It’s true her cats had wrecked the place, but it should never have been let in that condition.

      2. She’s staying with friends, moving from place to place until she gets rehoused. We’re keeping her washing machine and other stuff until she finds somewhere.

      3. She’s not old, she’s fallen out with all her family, and I’m surprised she has enough friends to house her these last three months. You have to be pretty keen to lodge not only an acquaintance but her dog and a selection of cats.

  3. Wow, moving, and like Geoff says, horribly true too. The worse thing is that there’s so little the masses can do to help. It’s a systemic problem, and one that the government needs to take responsibility for. Clearly, there are things we can do, like give to charity, or volunteer.

    This is a beautiful, touching piece Jane, I loved it, and you never fail to make me uncomfortable too! (in a good way) :p

    1. I’m glad you liked it, Sacha, though maybe ‘liked’ isn’t the right word. In the last few years six of my acquaintances (dog-walking friends) have had to move because of ‘improvements’ to their flats justifying a massive rent increase. One of them slept in a tent in the park for months and I felt to awful giving him a sleeping bag and warm clothes when I have a house. One camped with friends and another one was put up by another dog-walking friend until he was rehoused. Solidarity’s wonderful, but there’s always a shortfall between improved housing and access to it by everyone.

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