This is a true story that took place in Carlisle, Cumbria, UK.
The photo above is a stock image and does not depict the primary person of this story.
Names were changed on the request of the people concerned.
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Everybody in town knew him. Well, they knew of him, but nobody had ever stopped to ask his name, except for the police officers who tried to move him along from his spot every night.
He was a young man, in his mid-twenties tall and dark-haired, but nobody ever noticed as he sat there cross-legged and with a beanie keeping his ears warm. His name was Parker, and he had been living on the street since his dad had kicked him out of the house in a drunken rage two years beforehand.
Suddenly, he had found himself away from his abusive father but with nowhere else to go. With no family left to take him in, no money to speak of and with his friends away at university in other places, he had found himself without a roof over his head. After weeks in doorways, tunnels, and parks, he had finally stumbled into the citadel archway. He had claimed a prominent spot, where locals and tourists alike had to walk past on the way from the bus stop to the High Street.
Parker had just wanted to sit down for a minute and look for coins. With the train station and bus stop just outside the citadel, people were forever dropping their small change, and Parker was hoping to scrape together another £ 0.50 for a cup of tea from the greasy spoon around the corner.
Night fell, and nobody tried to claim the sheltered spot Parker had found. The little alcove within the archway’s wall (there used to be a doorway there that had long since been sealed) meant that he could keep out of the wind and rain and still keep an eye on everyone who came past.
He hated having to beg for money. Abhorred it. He tried to do odd jobs around town to earn a little bit of money in what he came to call a “legitimate” way. Mowing lawns, taking bins out for old ladies, that sort of thing.
Despite his two years on the streets, he made sure he looked presentable. When he’d left home, he had only grabbed a duffel bag worth of clothes, but he made sure to wash them at the little laundrette regularly. He never smelled of alcohol, kept away from the stuff because he’d seen what alcohol had done to his dad. Parker’s spot in the archway was only a few feet away from the public toilets, so he could keep himself clean, and he made sure always to be polite.
Heather walked past him every morning on her way to university and every evening after work and for a long time, she more or less ignored him the way the rest of the town did. That is to say, he noticed he was there, she just pretended not o see him. But not because she found him scary, disgusting or appalling. Rather because she knew for a fact she had no money on her.
She didn’t have money to spare, had months when she’d lived on pot noodles and a few carrots and nothing else because money was so tight. But whenever she could spare a few pence, she tried to donate them.
No matter how often Parker asked “Got any spare change, Miss?” and no matter how often she shook her head no, he’d always smile and reply “Aw, never mind. You have a lovely day now!” or variations thereof.
She came to think of him as the “polite homeless guy.” In fact, he was the only homeless person she met on her daily travels who’d wish everyone a nice day whether they’d given any money or not.
It was a rainy Saturday evening when Heather and Parker properly met. She’d just cashed in her paycheck and thought she’d treat herself to a takeaway on her way home. As she took momentary refuge from the torrential downpour in Parker’s archway, he wished her a good evening and asked whether she could spare a few pence.
Knowing she only had a note in her wallet, she said no. She may have had a loose penny or two knocking about in her handbag, but she didn’t want to insult him by giving only a penny.
As she was fixing her red hair into a ponytail so the wind wouldn’t blow it about, she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and for the first time really looked at him. They were about the same age and he was shaking like a leaf. He had a blanket wrapped around him to keep the cold and wet at bay. Yet he still smiled and said “don’t worry.”
Heather made a split-second decision as she turned to him. “What would you like?” she asked. She pointed at the pizza place across the way. “I’m going over there and getting you something to eat. What would you like? They do pizzas, burgers and kebabs, I think.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, I am. Unless you want to come with me and order it yourself. I just assumed you wouldn’t want to give up a sheltered spot like yours in weather like this.”
A few minutes later, Heather dashed across the street. He’d asked for “whatever is cheapest,” but she had decided to share a proper meal with him – the pizza place she had in mind always had good value meal deals – as he’d get a drink out of it as well.
So she’d ordered two large pizzas, a portion of chips and two drinks, as well as a large cup of tea to take away. And while she was waiting for her order, she thought that this was right. She hadn’t had the small change to help, but by doing this, he’d get a hot meal.
When she returned with a bag full of food instead of just a bowl of chips as he’d expected, he thanked her profusely. Handing over the hot cup of tea, she held out her hand. “You’re very welcome. I’m Heather, by the way.” “Parker,” he said and gave her a firm and sincere handshake.
“I’ve really got to go, but it was nice to meet you, Parker. Take care, ok? You have a lovely evening now,” she grinned as he tucked into his food.
From there on in, the two of them sharing a meal became a regular occurrence. Every second Saturday when she got paid, Heather would stop off at the citadel. Sometimes, when he felt it was safe to leave his spot for a minute, they’d sit inside the small greasy spoon together; sometimes she’d sit next to him in the archway.
They started talking and eventually became friends. He explained what life on the streets was like and why he’d left home. How he’d wanted to be an electrician and how he took odd jobs and had read half the books in the public library.
Heather started to look for Help Wanted signs and ask around whether anyone needed a handyman. One Saturday evening, they sat together in the small café and she helped him write his CV so she could print it out for him, and he could hand it out.
This continued for almost a year.
Then one day while she was on her way to university, she noticed he wasn’t there. She didn’t think much of it at first. Maybe he’d found a place at the shelter, or he was on one of his odd jobs.
When she returned that evening, he still wasn’t there. Heather started to worry when she hadn’t seen him anywhere in town in two weeks.
That Saturday, when she left work, she was relieved to see him sitting on the bench outside her work. He grinned from ear to ear when he saw her.
“Where have you been? I was worried?” she asked.
“Remember that caretaker position I applied for? I got the job! And they provide a room on the premises. Can you believe it?? I’m off the street. Look at me, I’ve got a job and a room of my own!”
Parker hugged her. “You helped me so much; you wrote my application letter. And one of the older men at my work used to be an electrician back in the day. It won’t be a “proper” qualification, but he’ll teach me and I’ll get to be an electrician, after all!”
Heather couldn’t believe it. He was safe, and he’d found a full-time job. Someone had finally given her friend a chance.
“I could never thank you enough. Not a lot of people treated me the way you did. But I want to make a start… So. What would you like?”
She looked at him confused. “What do you mean, what would I like?”
“I just got my first paycheck. And I’m buying you a pizza!”