The Street Life

Published in Esperanto Magazine: (Melbourne Edition – Issue 4)

‘Some life lessons from Aleczander Gamboa and a Big Issue vendor named Patrick.’

Words by Aleczander Gamboa

I remember I was on a train once going to university when a homeless man came into the carriage and started asking everyone to ‘spare any change’. Late for my first tutorial and practically comatose because I hadn’t had my regular morning coffee yet, I ignored him. But that didn’t stop me from observing the others on the train. I noticed that the minute the homeless man walked by them, people would either do the following:

  1. Look out the window and suddenly be extremely interested in the boring scenery.
  2. Turn up the volume on their iPods.
  3. Whip out their phones and pretend to read something.

One man even told him to fuck off and get a real job. The atmosphere became very tense after that – but when the homeless man got off at Flagstaff station, the air of tension left with him and everyone on the carriage visibly relaxed.

Before I go on, I have a small confession to make – I was completely stumped for ideas with the ‘Melbourne’ edition of Esperanto. So I decided to traverse the streets of our CBD in the hope that I would have an epiphany before the deadline. What I got was much more cathartic than I had originally anticipated.

It was a cold Thursday afternoon when I met Patrick. I observed him from a distance when I exited Myer. As he held up a copy of the Big Issue, he smiled and waved at a passing mother and her baby. She noticed him for a brief second before her footsteps fastened, slowing down again once she was far away from him. A group of teenage boys saw him and the youngest had the audacity to point at him and laugh, later indicating to his friends the sheer size of his large belly to which they all cackled madly at as they walked off. Yet, Patrick remained unperturbed, still smiling at strangers as he tried to sell a copy of the magazine.

When I approached him and bought one, I had a brief conversation with him and asked him how his day was. He looked surprised that I would even ask him such a question, but replied by saying it was slow. He then proceeded to tell me that he was homeless, and I asked him what that was like and how it felt.

“It’s hard. When you sit here and you watch people walk past you day after day, you begin to feel envious. You notice things like the expensive coats they wear, the nice designer shoes they have, their iPhones, their gold watches. They probably have nice houses and apartments too. And then you look at yourself and you hate the fact that you have none of those things. What others don’t get is that we’re not people you should fear – all we need is a helping hand, a smile from those more fortunate than us, or even a nice conversation like you and I are having right now.”

Patrick was what inspired me to write this piece. Before meeting him, I was still lost as to what to write for the magazine, and it was that conversation I had with him that made me realise I had overlooked the smaller details of the bigger picture. I was focussing my attention on the grandiose of what Melbourne had to offer instead of noticing the subtle details like the woman that sits near Melbourne Central asking for money so she can feed her dog, or the man in Docklands sleeping on tiny piece of cloth, or Patrick who is simply trying to make a decent living by selling the Big Issue.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here is the stigmas we have about homeless people in Melbourne. A lot of us see them as people that should be feared because we think they are all drug addicts or muggers, but we are wrong. They are just as scared of you as you are of them. Money isn’t the only thing that they desire; sometimes what they crave more is a simple kind word from a passing stranger.

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