I wake up, blinking hard against the sky, and the ?rst thing I remember is that my wife cannot forgive me. Never, ever. Then I remind myself I don’t have a wife anymore. Instead, I’m lying at the bottom of a stairwell, thirty concrete steps below street level in a city far from my home. My home is in the past, and I must live in the present.
I’m lying on a soft pile of rubbish bags, and I seem to have got myself covered in muck. It’s all over my shabby green raincoat and the frayed sleeves of my jumper, and there’s a bit on my trousers as well. I sniff it, trying to decide what it is, but I can’t be sure.
How strange I didn’t notice it when I was checking this place out last night. OK, it was already dark by then and I was desperate to ?nd somewhere to doss down after being moved on twice already. But I remember crawling into the rubbish really carefully, prodding the bin bags with my hands and thinking this was the softest and driest bed I was likely to ?nd. Maybe the muck seeped out later on, under pressure from my sleeping body.
I look around for something to wipe my clothes with. There’s nothing, really. If I were a cat, I’d lick the crap off with my tongue, and still be a proud, even fussy creature. But I’m not a cat. I’m a human being.
So, I pull a crumpled-up advertising brochure out of the trash, wet it with dregs from a beer bottle, and start to scrub my jacket vigorously with the damp wad of paper.
Maybe it’s the exercise, or maybe the rising sun, but pretty soon I feel I can probably get by without these dirty clothes—at least until tonight. And tonight is too far away to think about.
I stand up, leaving my raincoat and jumper lying in the garbage, where they look as if they belong anyway. I’m left with a big white T-shirt on, my wrinkled neck and skinny arms bare, which feels just right for the temperature. The T-shirt’s got writing on the front, but I’ve forgotten what the writing says. In fact, I can’t remember where I got this T-shirt, whether someone gave it to me or I stole it or even bought it, long long ago.