Sam, seven hundred and twenty days now haunched on the blue blanket in the abbey square, the railings of Saint Hilda’s shoring him up. He arrives every mid-morning, avoids touching the crowd on the streets with a nimble dance step, a side step, a series of hops and feints and bounces. He lays out his sign (block-lettered crayon, orange and blue today), pinning it down with the collection of stones and a brick chip that he brings from the pockets of his greatcoat. The sign explains his reason. He insinuates the colourful artworks into the railings, weaving them between the bars and lowers himself into his position on the blue blanket.
All day, every day; it is vocation. Snatches of their strange language nip at his ears, a sort of endless peal of cat chatter and sick-dog whimpers, and beyond, beyond their animal language, there is the sound of distant anvils and hammers. The square rings with these sounds. He clutches his knees to his chest and arranges his hair so he doesn’t have to see their faces and so they cannot see his. He watches the parade of legs, askew, through the curtain of hair. Their shapes loom and lean away. He imagines he imagines their faces and this is enough.
As the shadows rise, exchanging places with sunlight, filling the square with darkness and finally the people fade away. And when the square is all but empty, except for pigeons and stragglers, he rolls the portraits, the scraps of card and chip paper (and some of them are the backs of prints that he finds outside the charity shops), one by one into the other. He clasps the collection with an elasticated red and blue belt that he wears to fasten his greatcoat. He pockets the clutter of stones, the brick chip and the jangling coins. He shoulders the blue blanket, cloaks himself, and hurries the streets of the town until he reaches the sagging, sad house where he stays.
The quiet of night finds him in the cold water kitchen, a spit and a lick of candlelight. He eats a meal from a can between his knees, sat on the bare boards, and he draws them from memory. The big-boy crayons are his favourites. He marvels at his gift for art. When the candles gutter and it becomes too dark, he rolls the portraits and lays down wrapped in his blanket, closes his eyes and attends to a thin sleep. What joy he must bring to their stupid dog faces and cat faces and rabbit and fox faces; what delight to their strange and sparkling eyes. Their odd, pinched mouths, lined with teeth. They are almost human.
And now a pink and orange skein lips the horizon and spills through the sheet nailed to the window wood. The trill whispers of the little birds outside on the sill gossiping him. He sits up and, islanded in a sea of crayoned scraps, he writes up the new day’s sign.
YOU WIL SEE WEN YOU BELIEVE
YOR FACE DRAWED FOR LOSE CHANGE
THIS IS THE SIGN