THERE’S a homeless man living in our street. Or, more accurately, living in his car on our street. I first noticed him early this year. I’m not sure when he moved in – he’s good at it, see.
I know lots of my neighbours, and no one else seems to be aware of him (although I haven’t mentioned him to them, either).
I’m going to call him Danny.
Danny comes and goes. He parks on our street half the days of the week, more or less.
My house is in a row of terrace houses in a pretty, inner-city suburb. We have old trees and green grass. When I sit at my desk, I stare out the window to the street. Danny, like me, is a creature of habit. He usually parks directly across from my room, on the other side of the road.
One morning in summer I was staring out the window when I saw the driver’s side seat of a car slide upright, and the door ease open. Danny stepped out. He wore low-slung, loose jeans with a rock ’n‘ roll studded belt, and a heavy metal t-shirt stretched over a round belly. He had a receding hairline, close shaved, except for a curious long black fringe flicked behind one ear. I watched as he meticulously cleaned his car. From his boot he retrieved a container of Windex and a cloth. Later, he returned to the boot and collected a dustpan and brush. He took a plastic bag full of rubbish to the bin in the park.
Another morning, soon after, I looked out the window and saw Danny leaning on his car smoking a cigarette, speaking to two young women. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I was pleased – from their body language, things seemed to be going well. They talked for some time, ten minutes perhaps. But then the women stiffened a little, and the conversation broke off.
The months have passed. Each evening, when I arrive home, I look for his car. Each morning when I wake, I look again.
In the wee hours one Saturday night, I pedalled home from a party and saw Danny crouching next to the parking meter. I couldn’t tell what he was doing. The next morning his car had gone but the parking meter was decorated with graffiti, in thick black felt-tip texta. Words like death and devil and forbidden, repeated over and over in gothic capital lettering.
The previous week the council had installed new bench seats in the park and I saw that he’d inscribed the timber of the benches similarly; likewise, a ‘For Sale’ board on a house across the road; and, I noticed, the wall of a nearby supermarket.
Within a week, the council had scrubbed the parking meter clean, but his words remain on the bench seats.
I am glad about this. I have rented a room on this street for several years, many of which I worked from home; during that time I knew all its comings and goings. Once, the day after returning from a long hitch-hiking adventure, I bumped into Martha, an elderly neighbour. “Oh, you’re back!” she exclaimed. “Freida told me she thought you were back!” Freida is another neighbour, further down the street. I liked that. I care about place and identity, about the physical and psychological markers we lay down, about the people we know and who know us.
One evening last week, Danny was already in his car – seat fully reclined, window slightly open – when I rode home at half past seven. Periodically, his hand would stretch up and out the window to tap the ash from a cigarette. He was still there the next morning at eight o’clock, when I collected my newspaper from the step. It had rained. That must have been a long, lonely night, I thought.
When I left for work, his car had gone. In the parking bay were his leavings: several cigarette butts, an empty can of beans, an avocado peel. Occasionally, I’ve noticed the remains of vomit on the asphalt. Most days he leaves no trace.
And so the year has passed, and Danny always returns. I’ve never spoken to him. I would like to say hello, if happenstance allows, but otherwise, I have resolved to leave him be. He has a street to call home.
For the last few days, however, his car has been there, but he hasn’t been in it. I walked past it this morning, and noticed a sign in the windscreen: “STUFF OFF WITH YOUR PARKING FINES”. Another sticker, by the driver’s door, said “FUCK OFF”.
I wonder about his life. It doesn’t change anything, but there is someone Danny doesn’t know, who knows he exists. I wonder whether or not he would like that.