It’s the biggest betrayal but it’s true – as much as I love this city, sometimes, I hate it. I was innocently walking to the station after two inoculations in my left arm, wading through the horrific crowds of Oxford Circus and battling the throng of fans at a premier in Leicester Square. I was not in a good mood, after a long day at work (involving a flood on two floors and a fire evacuation) followed by two very expensive attacks on my arm and still no sign of dinner any time soon. And then I see a man, bent over, scrawny, short, yelling at a homeless girl to ‘go away’, shouting that she shouldn’t be sending her money to Romania, that she should go back to where she came from. A man was approaching the two. I assumed he was going to step in, to stick up for this poor woman, but he was backing up his mate, the chivalrous gentleman screaming at a homeless woman.
I hovered, waiting to see where this was going, if I needed to intervene. I thought he was a member of staff from the shop behind her, asking her to move on so that business was undisturbed, but the anger came from a much more desperate place.
I’ve been on the street here for years and suddenly you show up and I’m only getting £1.50 a day. And you’re sending all that money to fucking Romania.
He was getting more aggressive, a little red in the face and I couldn’t just watch anymore. “Could you stop shouting at her please?”
His mate backed off but wanker number 1 went on another little rant about how she was intruding on his business. I told him that this was a street, that he had no claim to it. They were both in the same position, couldn’t they show some support instead of fighting against each other? Nope, apparently not. He started losing it – apparently she was ‘smiling’ and this was driving him crazy. She knows she’s in the wrong because she’s smiling. An expression apparently foreign to him. But not as ‘foreign’ as her.
She needs to go back to fucking Romania. I was here first.
At this point, a kind leafleteer intervened and backed me up. ‘It’s a free country, leave her alone, she’s a woman.’ I’ve never been one to pull out the vulnerable female excuse to avoid an argument but if this would convince someone to stop verbally abusing a woman who already had plenty of other problems to worry about, I was willing to go with it. No such luck.
They carried on arguing and my train was due any minute. I left the nasty toothless bag of hate with the regretful leafleteer and ran for Charing Cross to catch the next train.
Me and that leafleteer? We were the only ones who stopped to stick up for this lone lost victim. In a street crammed to more than capacity with hundreds of tourists, bankers, businessmen, theatre-goers, hippies, clowns, magicians, chefs, waiters – that makes less than 2% of us willing to help. Don’t get me wrong, I eventually ran off for my train, too and I’m not proud that the simple reason was to avoid a half hour wait at the station. And I’m sure all of those relentless walkers passing by had very important appointments, and I’m also sure that I shouldn’t have reacted with anger to a homeless man struggling to make enough money to eat. I should have been calm, I should have bought them both sandwiches. The whole situation was sad and I should have asked him, how did you get to be here, on a street, arguing with me and a penniless Romanian woman?
And this is why some people hate London. I say this as a Londonphile because I’ve seen every side of our incredible capital, which is why I write this with conviction: it’s not the busy streets, the claustrophobic tubes, the expensive food, drink or public toilets that put people off. It’s the woman, crouched and cowering at the side of the road beneath an angry man, ignored by a whole city-full of people.
Feature photo credit: Ed Gregory