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The Visitor

by The Scholar

Part 3: Start At The Beginning

"I guess," he began, "I'd run out of options. I mean, I didn't really know where else to turn. I couldn't go home, but I'll explain that later and my friends, well, some of them weren't the friends I thought they were. You were my last chance, I found your address in the telephone directory days ago, but it was only last night that I plucked up the courage to come here. I guess I was afraid - afraid that you'd turn me away, afraid that if you did I had used up all my options and I wouldn't know what else to do. I'm not really making any sense, am I?"

"Don't worry, just tell it your own way, I guess it will become clear to me." I didn't want to push him. I knew this wasn't going to be easy for him, I could see it in his eyes. He had to tell it his way, or not at all. If that meant I had to piece it together from what he said, then so be it, but he had do it his way.

"I suppose Lewis Carroll was right - 'start at the beginning' and all that. Well, okay. I'd rather you didn't stop me, though. Let me finish, before you say anything."

I nodded. He took a deep breath, curled up in the armchair and began again - from the beginning.

"I guess it all started when I got home one day. I'd been to the park, playing basketball with some friends - just a few of us, something to do, I guess. Since I left school it's been tough trying to find a job. Anyway, I got home and my Mom was in the living room, crying. My Mom doesn't cry; she's not the type to cry, so I was a little shocked to find her in our living room with my Dad crying.

"She looked up as I walked in and Dad went ballistic. I mean, he really went through the roof, began yelling and screaming at me, though I wasn't sure that I remembered what he was shouting. All I could see was my Mom, crying.

"Upshot of it was, I was kicked out. Dad just threw me out of the house and told me not to come back. I was frightened, I didn't understand, but I thought after a couple of days it would all blow over. I had no family I could turn to. I'm an only child. My parents both have brothers and sisters, but they still live in Costa Rica, so I was on my own. I didn't know what to do.

"I know what you're thinking - 'why was he kicked out by his Dad?' I guess I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. I don't want to go into right now, if that's okay?"

I nodded. I'd promise to let him tell his story in his own way and I wasn't the sort of person to break a promise.

Tony continued.

"At first I wasn't too worried. I had a friend who I knew would put me up for a couple of days, he just asked his Mom if I could sleep over and she said that if it was okay with my Mom, there was no problem. I made a pretence of 'phoning home and said it was okay. We spent the following day in the park and that night I said I'd been given permission to sleep over again, which I did. I guess it would be sort of suspicious to push my luck for a third night, but that wasn't going to be possible, anyway. Mikey and his folks were going away to spend the run-up to Christmas with his aunt, uncle and cousins, so it was time to move on. He never even asked why I couldn't go home. I actually appreciated that. I needed time to think. He was a good friend was Mikey.

"I felt cold. I know the days have been unnaturally warm, but the nights have been colder. After those first two nights sleeping at Mikey's, it was a bit of a shock to find myself on the streets, no cash and nowhere to go. I wondered if I dared to risk going home, find out how the land lay, but decided against it. I knew my Dad, once he got something into his head, that was it - nothing would change him and appealing to Mom's better nature - well, how could I do that? I'd made her cry. That, I think, upset me more than anything. I'd made my Mom cry and I couldn't forgive myself.

"I didn't know where to turn, or what to do, so I just hopped onto the rail line and into the city. I wandered aimlessly for hours, just walking through the streets. I kept thinking of those lessons we had at school about drugs, sex and the homeless - about 1400 in San Francisco and how, suddenly, I was a statistic, too.

"I didn't really know where I was going and I ended up at Fisherman's Wharf and strolled up to Pier 39, just trying to think, to clear my head. That's when I met this old guy; he was opening some large boxes and seemed to be getting a bit hot under the collar. Turns out the boxes contained t-shirts, you know the sort - souvenirs for the tourists. He seemed to be struggling a bit, so I offered him a hand:

"Need some help?"

"Now, lad, I wouldn't say no to that."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Just get these boxes open, that'll do for a start."

He handed me a knife and I began to help open boxes full of t-shirts - various gaudy prints of local landmarks. It was a great source of amusement to him that tourists bought these t-shirts as the locals dressed accordingly for the unpredictable San Francisco weather. He was an oldish guy, late fifties, gray hair, gray eyes and beer gut. We got the boxes open and I thought that would be that, but he offered me a sandwich and a cup of coffee for my trouble and I accepted, suddenly realizing that I was both hungry and thirsty. We headed for a café and I suddenly realized that I didn't have any money and told him so.

"On me, least I can do for your help. My regular lad hasn't turned in, says he's ill. If you ask me, he was on the town last night and put too much away, if you know what I mean."

"Thanks," I said, as I followed him into the café. I ended up with two sandwiches and a large mug of coffee, but I was so hungry I hardly tasted what I was eating.

"You doing anything today?"

"Me? No, why?"

"Well, as my regular lad hasn't shown, how about you give me a hand? I don't expect you to do it for nothing, shall we say twenty dollars?"

"Twenty dollars? You bet!"

"Okay, that's settled then.

He handed me a twenty-dollar bill.

"You trust me to pay me now?" I was amazed.

"Why not, you seem like a decent lad to me. I don't think you'll do a runner, will you?"

"No, Sir. What do I have to do?"

"Sell, lad, sell. Sell as many shirts as you can."

"Will there be enough people to buy them? I mean, it's not exactly the tourist season, is it?"

"Listen, lad, there are always tourists and besides, freak weather we've been having, we may even sell some to the locals!"

He gave a laugh and I knew I was going to enjoy today.

As it turned out, I was quite good at it, even Joe - that was the old guy's name - even Joe said I wasn't bad for a novice.

At the end of the day, I was whacked. Joe even bought a mug of coffee and a large steak sandwich for me for lunch.

"You done okay, lad," said Joe, as I helped him pack up what hadn't been sold.

"Thanks, I enjoyed myself."

"Well if that lazy so and so doesn't show again, be sure to stop by and you can give me a hand, okay?"

"Yeah, I'd like that."


Joe held out his hand, it contained a t-shirt and a twenty-dollar bill.

"You already paid me."

"I know I did. This is a bonus - a Golden Gate Bridge souvenir from Joe and a few extra dollars in your pocket."

"No, I couldn't, honestly, I couldn't. I mean, you've paid me, fed me and I really couldn't take anything else."

"I won't offer again, lad, so you better take it while it's there."

I reluctantly accepted both.

"Thanks, Joe. I mean it - thanks."

"Right, now you run along, I can finish up here."

"You sure?"

He nodded.

"Thanks, Joe."

"And that was that. I left Joe to finish up on his own, I had forty dollars in my pocket, a new t-shirt, which, as it had started to get chilly, I put on over the one I was already wearing - even if it did have a print of the Golden Gate Bridge on it; and I'd been fed and watered. Now all I needed was to find somewhere to sleep.

"I didn't know how long I was going to be on the streets and though I had forty dollars, I didn't want to blow it unnecessarily. I hopped on the first bus that came along and ended up by the Safe Way grocery store, a block from Ocean Beach. That was handy as I was able to buy some bread and some meat paste, so I knew I'd be okay to make sandwiches for myself to keep me going for a while and I picked up a liter bottle of Coke, too. What I had left would be okay for an occasional McDonalds to keep me going, when it became necessary.

"I did find somewhere to sleep, not exactly The Hilton, but it was dry - one of those arches under the Great Highway, the road leading to the Cliff House, you know the one? Overlooks Ocean Beach. It was a bit noisy, but quite comfortable, actually. There were a few other guys sleeping rough in the area, mostly on the beach, but those under the arches had lit a fire and were friendly enough. We got talking, seemed okay guys - we shared my paste sandwiches and they shared what they and with me - it was an interesting feast, but they moved on, probably ended up on the beach and new faces came by.

"I won't pretend I wasn't scared, because I was, but I felt surprisingly relaxed. I don't think I really slept that first night - more fear of the unknown than anything else, but I dozed off a few times. The traffic overhead was constant and thunderous, but after a while, I got used to it and it became part of the norm, know what I mean?

"It was on my second night that I met another new face - a kid called Dave. Turns out he was the same age as me and we got talking, but he didn't say how he came to be on the streets. I didn't push it. I thought if he wanted to tell me he would, if he didn't he wouldn't. I wasn't going to pry. He was a cute kid, looked a bit too young to be on the streets, but then, people often think I'm younger than I am. He had short, dirty blonde hair and gray eyes and wore torn jeans, black t-shirt and one of those lightweight black jackets - looked like he'd been on the streets for a while.

"He was a nice kid and we spent the following day walking along the beach, stripping down to our boxer shorts and fooling about daring each other into the sea - if you've ever been to Ocean Beach you'll know that's not something you want to do too often, even the surfers wear insulated wetsuits. We never even gave a thought to the fact that we were homeless. We lay on the beach to dry off in the sun and talked endlessly about anything and everything, except the reasons we were on the streets. We returned to the arches that night for shelter. It had been a good day - we'd had a bit of a laugh and it felt good to laugh. I think he felt the same.

"That night, back at the arches, after another quick trip to the grocery store, there was just the two of us. We'd got to know each other better during the day and I think he felt he could trust me and he opened up a bit and filled me in on why he was on the streets. Turns out his Dad was beating him when he found out he was gay.

"One of his Dad's friends had seen Dave kissing another boy and made a joke of it to Dave's Dad, who promptly went home and confronted him and when Dave admitted it, he began beating him and one day he'd had enough, struck back at his Dad, knocked him to the ground and left - just walked out of his home and hasn't been back since. It made me think, I can tell you. It made me wonder if I could go back home. I mean, my father threw me out, but at least he didn't beat me - could I never return home?

"Dave cried himself to sleep that night, I could hear him, though I think he tried to hide it. I wanted to go to him, but I didn't want to embarrass him by letting on that I'd heard him and, apart from anything else, I was crying, too.

"The following day it was bright and sunny. Dave was still sleeping when I woke up, so I left him to it and headed for the beach and was just lazing around when he came running up - wanted to know if we could hang out again. I saw no reason why not. It was as if the previous night hadn't occurred - he was bright and cheerful and so was I. Perhaps crying had released something in both of us. I never mentioned it, nor did he.

"We had another great day, just laughing and fooling about. There was a group of people having a barbeque and they were inviting everyone within hearing distance to join them. We didn't need to be asked twice, I can tell you - and you'd have thought we hadn't eaten for a month. I suppose, truth be told, we hadn't eaten much at all over the past few days - only the sandwiches I put together with the provisions I picked up at the store and the scraps Dave had found, he seemed to find scraps of food wherever he went, but this was a real treat.

"We ate, joined in with a game of beach volleyball, ate some more, drank Coke till it came out of our ears, played more volleyball, lay in the sun, ran to the sea, ate some more and eventually collapsed - exhausted, when our hosts packed up and headed off.

"We spent that night on the beach, rather than under the arches. It wasn't a warm night, but not too cold and we sat talking for ages. Eventually, we began to feel a chill, but it was too late to get back to the arches, so we just sat on the beach and as it grew colder, we huddled together for warmth and that's when I decided to tell him why I was on the streets."

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