As I pulled down hard on my shoelace with utter despair I heard the rip as it snapped in my hand. I looked down at my battered boots and knew I had been living on borrowed time.
The boots, that had once been buffed, so I could see my face, were dirty and leaking. The leather was peeling. Wherever I went the hole in the sole allowed water to seep into my feet.
A car backfired as it came speeding by me. Instantly I ducked. Transported back to a time when the boots had been new and gleaming. Where I had been in constant fear for my life. A time when I had money in my pocket and a purpose to live.
The images that had been so clear to me, faded, the pavement came back into focus. Unlacing the rest of the shoelace, I tried to make what was left secure the boot to my foot. If I missed a couple of holes the shoelace still did its job. Putting the other half in my pocket, I gathered my pack and stood. You never knew when something as simple as half a shoelace could become useful. Regardless it wasn’t good to drop litter. People were too eager these days to discard things that were no longer useful.
The day was hot, hotter than it had been for a week. Weather this hot was as dangerous as the cold winters. My first job was to find a water source and fill my bottles up. Plastic bottles were easy enough to find, people discarded them wherever. I was always careful to take everything with me. Never leave a trace, that’s what I had been taught years earlier.
Once I had filled my bottles with the warm water from the public toilet I went in search of breakfast. Many of the bins around the fast food restaurants were a buffet full of food. People discarded their leftovers, with no consideration that others are starving. For breakfast I had a half eaten bacon sandwich and a McMuffin. The packaging for both with a little ripping and manipulating made a good insole for my boot. Putting a plastic bag inside whilst I fashioned this addition I smiled. There waterproof again and apart from the shoelace, good to last another couple of years.
Choosing not to stay in the main town centre where the heat was unbearable. Plus when I was in town there was always the possibility of having something thrown at me. Teenagers often bet their friend to throw rubbish at me or to walk up to me and ask a stupid question.
The park, in contrast, was quiet and a safe haven for me. Many people didn’t bother with the park, instead, they chose to push their way through the crowds. I prefer to sit and watch the world go by. I shared my bacon sandwich with a friendly robin who kept me company throughout.
As I finished my meal I was distracted by the large gentleman stumbling towards me from the corner of the park. He looked quite pale and was sweating. He then clutched his chest and fell down in front of me. That was when I heard the gunfire in my head. I heard the crackling of the radio announcing there was a man down who needed urgent help. I crawled on my stomach to the man and felt a pulse. There was none. Following my basic training, I started chest compressions. Whilst I did this I yelled for my Sergeant to call for urgent backup. I stayed like this, all the time keeping my fallen colleague alive until we were evacuated.
As fatigue set into my shoulders I felt a hand reach down for me. My vision cleared and I was back in the park, there stood beside me was a paramedic. He said the same thing several times before I registered.
“It’s okay we can take over now.”
As I released the casualty I rocked back on my heels exhausted. I watched the paramedics work on the man as the police arrived. The man was loaded into the ambulance and taken away. I was still in a state of shock when the policeman approached me.
“You saved that guys life.”
I shrugged my shoulders, saving one life would never make up for the many I had killed. The policeman took a brief statement. He didn’t ask the obvious question of my home address.
At the end of the interview, he asked, “is there anything I can get you?”
I shook my head in response.
“Come on, there must be something you need, a meal, some more clothes anything?”
“Well my shoelace snapped this morning,” I replied.
Living on the streets there are good days and there are bad days. Sometimes you are hungry and cold, feeling the damp seep into your bones. Sometimes you have a full stomach and everything you need.
Today was a good day the policeman bought me new shoelaces. I had found enough to eat and the flashbacks hadn’t been too bad. Not every day was I so lucky. In my life, however, I took the luck when it fell my way. Just one female soldier living day to day, on the streets.