I walked round this corner, coming round the building from the left, on my way back from lunch in Lavapies the other day.
There were 5 Sub-Saharan immigrant guys hovering over that big patch of pavement by the blue motorbike, covering the flagstones with their ragged ‘top manta‘ meter-squares of cotton sheets, full of the latest Hollywood Blockbuster DVD copies, idly browsed by the bored tourist trade..
…and the second they came into my view everything exploded into sudden action, as the men reached down to get the stings that attach to all four corners of the cloth laid out before them, and in one smooth movement the cloth had gathered the DVDs, they had turned on their heels, and sprinted through cars across the zebra crossing to sit things out nervously in the middle of the road.
Then I saw the police car that had pulled up just behind them. One of the agentes lazily made a show of pretending to get out, realised he’d achieved his aim of scattering them to the wind, and pulled his foot back into the car while his partner headed back into the traffic. A tourist bent down and picked up 5 of the DVD’s that had been dropped during the escape, and wandered off casually, showing them to his friends.
I stopped and watched the guys still hovering in the central reservation, sheets clasped tightly in their hands, ready to run again. I walked over to wait at the crossing. Looked into the window of McD’s – some teenagers with mum and dad, eating a burger – lettuce, slab of grey meat, looked like the bun had chocolate chips on top – what?!
Looking down, I saw I was right next to a palid, sad 40-something guy sitting on a scrap of cardboard, his back up against the wall below the burger-eaters window. He had a few coins laid out in front of him, a half-tin of catfood, and a tiny tabby kitten. Every time the kitten made it to the boarders of the cardboard he reached out, grabbed a bit of fur or a limb, and dragged it back. Again, and again, and again, and again.
But something in his half-dead eyes convinced me later that the kitten gave a scrap of meaning to his life, and that the kitten wouldn’t have made it without him either…