I walked into Cardiff city centre last night.
I looked at my phone to get the time. It was 19:15. I was outside the Poundland on Queen Street down the Sainsbury's end. It was open after closing time. That was strange. I checked the times on the side of the shop. They close at 19:00. The doors were still wide-open. It looked like there were customers still inside scanning their goods.
I walked up Queen Street and near the McDonalds, a bloke in a clown mask came right over to me pointing and I pushed him away but he grabbed my arm but I managed to pull it away and walked off. It is Halloween in two days time, could have been a student. His mini girlfriend watched on.
So I walked on up to High Street and turned left into it and walked down towards St Mary's. I've been down this road any number of times before but the homelessness didn't register tonight. I honestly couldn't tell you if there were any, or if they were all in the same places they always were. I walked down to the first walkway that wasn't an arcade. I always think about buying some chips down this road but never have and didn't last night. The well illuminated chippie I considered using didn't look very busy, one dressed-for-the-cold-evening couple sat at one of the inside tables.
I walked round into the main thoroughfare and I saw the heartbreaking site of a weak looking, single, skinny, man, probably in his fifties, standing in the pathway quietly asking for money. “Please give me money,” he was saying to anyone who walked past him. He was quietly sobbing. He looked like he needed money. I didn't give him money. I walked on, feeling guilty that I hadn't given him anything, and feeling his powerlessness, his aloneness.
I walked towards the entrance to St David's arcade, where you can walk down between the shops and take a left into Charles Street and then back into Queen Street. Before the St David's entrance I looked over to see two women sitting up in duvets in an unused shop entrance and there was a man standing up. He called over to me. “Hey, big man can you give us some money?” or something like that. One of the women said to the man, don't do that. Just like they didn't need money and they were embarrassed to ask. Just like polite folk do when they don't want to be a nuisance.
Polite folk sleeping on the street in duvets embarrassed to ask for help.
I friendly-looked at them, which probably was more of a smile than I had intended, raised my hand in a half wave acknowledgement, and said no and walked on.
I continued walking and when I got to the back of Marks and Spencer there were a load of people. I couldn't work out what was happening. It was a hive of activity, of movement. It could have been a large party waiting to be picked up, but they looked like someone was handing out clothes. There were a good number of people. I didn't count them. Maybe 30-40-50. It's an area where homeless people do congregate. If they were homeless that's the most homeless together I have ever seen.
It was a crisp night, no rain. The clocks had turned back over the weekend. The start of winter months.
I have been here in Cardiff for two months and two years now.
Cardiff felt wrong last night.
Gary Smith 30th October 2019