It’s easy enough to see how you wonder for her and think of her presence, despite your steady belief you are a fellow fixed in his ways of life and his own mind.
Even the first time you meet, and despite your cold stare and your hurried burying of your hands in your pockets for lack of sensible words, you don’t ignore her when she bids you a good morning. You don’t simply walk on like the rest, and leave her in the gutter with her wet chalk and her beautiful, yet hopeless dreams of a worldly canvas. Even though you stumble at her soft inquiries, you allow yourself to spend that precious minute with her, watching what she draws with her filthy, blackened hands. You tell her you care, and with sincerity you think her drawings lovely, and she smiles at you. Who knows, maybe you even return it.
You watch her at her work even as the rain falls, when the Heavens open and you cannot see beyond your apartment for the frosted glass and spiralling fog. But looking down at her, you neglect your hot tea and books of chemistry and literature, trading the few solo hours you have for a chance to watch her shelter underneath deserted café chairs and try to protect the work she has slaved away at for hours upon hours, despite the frequent tides of rain and distant, rumbling thunder after August’s wavering heat. Still, you don’t help her. It is not your duty or requirement, you know, when you are warm and comfortable with your blankets and scarves and apathy. But the image of her intrigues you, and even later you allow yourself to think of her, when you know you should be revising Orwell and Coleridge and drinking the tea that is already stone cold from your neglect and contemplation.
For months upon months you watch her, keenly and closely, eyes wide with curiosity and fingers lingering at the window’s glass, pressing against a thin barrier you know is separating you from the rest of the world, and from her. You don’t know whether she has a home, somewhere out there, or whether or not she has resigned herself unconsciously to a life lived in struggle. It’s a strange thing indeed to contemplate, especially when seeing how she smiles upon the passersby, regardless of whether they timidly return it or otherwise look at her in pure disgust, as though she is little more than dirt, or perhaps something far lower. Still, she smiles in her ignorance and naivety, clinging onto her own desperation as though it is all she has left. Perhaps, you think, it could just as well be.
But oh, how she draws so beautifully! Her fingers are her brushes, her chalk her guidelines. She draws with reds and oranges and yellows in the autumn, her greens and blues in summer and her violets in the depths of spring. In the winter her hands are cold enough that she cannot close the tips of her fingers around the chalk but rather paints with the snow, and her own frigid blood.
In truth, she surprises you. The sight of her makes you consider your own living whenever you should properly regard her, and the consideration of how you have lived for as long as you can recall is not something you consider to be of importance. How is it that she can live so easily, so happily, and with so little? How is it that she still smiles and her eyes still glint in the darkness, regardless of the circumstances or the banks of snow surrounding her? How do her hands still create such purely beautiful, unmarred creations, so contrasted to the body of their creator?
It is that same intrigue, undoubtedly, that urges you to one day approach her, almost running down the flights of steps only to find yourself engulfed in the cold. You pull your scarf against your mouth, your coat against your shoulders.
Watching her at her work, it is a time before you are able to bring yourself to try and catch her intention, rather than be lulled into a respecting silence. She lifts her head as soon as she hears you cough, and she grins. You don’t know why, but she grins, the same moment your eyes drift to the colourful marks she has imprinted upon the pavement – a memory engraved in the far reaches of your mind.
Looking back at her, you see how she is expecting you to speak; when you remain silent her face falls, and you turn your head away.
“Sir, this isn’t your home, is it?”
The words are strange and foreign, filling you with an unnerving emotion, and almost against your will you turn back to look at her with wonder and a thought filled pause.
What does she know? Is she aware of how you watch her at her work and dream of a homely city as she draws with the same colour as the rising of the sun? Is she aware of how the snow outside your window can only stir in you recollections of a large, creamy moon in the dead of night, and how the blues and greens with which she paints her dreamt skies and pastures can only strike in your head longings for the shining Thames, despite how you try to tuck them away, trying fruitlessly to forget such foolish sentimentality?
“You must be from a great place, sir.”
Looking back once more, your eyebrows lift, and she laughs.
“How do you know?”
She can do little more than shrug in answer, but the peculiarity of it all makes your mind drift and thoughts wander.
“You’re from London, sir?”
Her eyes shine at your perplexed, stunned glance.
“Yes,” you answer her, stiff and cold.
“Why are you here, then? Why aren’t you there, sir, where you belong?”
“I can’t afford it.”
She pauses, seemingly regarding your words with a careful consideration. Perhaps she is amused, inwardly laughing at how you bother with speaking to her, but within a short time she speaks once more.
“The train rides must be long ones, then.”
And then she turns back to her work, but you see her falter with the chalk, fingers flexing themselves. Shocked, perhaps somewhat annoyed, you can do nothing but continue to stare, until at last your eyes narrow and you turn back, mind heavy with consideration.
Your summer is spent at the coast that year; a tradition you had not relived since youthful years of boyhood, and one you had grown to miss.
Yet, it’s a pity it was such an unpleasant holiday, you think, somewhat regretful, the train rattling as your hands absently touch upon the opaque glass of the window, idly and pointlessly carving light patterns of boredom and contemplation. Your carriage is solitary, a large portion of the train empty and silent as the world outside grows dark. Still, you can’t consider it a pity, since at last you’re alone and allowed to lose yourself in your own thoughts. The glass is cold, dripping and icy to the touch, flecked with rain. Pity you had to lose what time you had to the storms and the wet.
It’s late, moon large by the time you step onto the platform, sombre and haggard. The trains rush by you, stirring you back into a dim reality as you clutch at the sleeves of your coat, regarding of the large clock against the wall. You had no umbrella, much less any promise of sleep with the pounding of the rain.
Your hands linger at your pockets before hastily burying themselves, a sigh slipping from your lips before you can hesitate. You try to take the walk quickly, but wind up taking the incorrect street (with thanks, undoubtedly, to the rain blurring your vision and sense) and returning at a somewhat ungodly hour. Your mind is in dismay, thoughts mingling and confused, even more so when your feet touch upon the familiar ground leading to your apartment.
For there you see a strange sight – a dark figure pressing themselves against a wall, hands trembling as they appear to be holding up a blanket or cover of some sort, as if trying to shield themselves from the rain. Throwing the water from your eyes and hair, you step forwards, marvelling but also reeling back in shock at what you now see clearly beneath the streetlight.
It’s the street artist, the girl, the same one you spoke to all those weeks ago.
Her fingers grasp at the corners of what you gradually see to be a large cover, like a tarp, eyes intently looking upon the drawing etched against the wall. For a minute you wildly glance behind you in shock, wandering whether you took the wrong train, after all, or whether you are still lost in a dream.
“I-It’s London,” you stammer.
At sound of your voice her eyes lift, meeting yours with the most intense look of excitement you’ve ever seen in the eyes of another human being. She beams – eyes rich and shining and beautiful in the blackness.
“I was wondering when I’d see you again.”
Her drawing is immaculate, faultless, so softly lit by a sketched moon and dark, shaded paving stones. There is a soft, unspoken thrum in your heart as she stares at you with her silhouette dripping and wearied, regarding the forms of a chalked Big Ben and Westminster Bridge, narrow houses and ancient stone. You choke on your words, staring at her with the most incredulity you ever thought possible.
There she is, soaked and alone, without a home or a kindly spoken word to remember, and she has done something so great, so gracious, committing an inconceivable kindness and compassion without a blinked eye or word of resentment.
Was it reality?
For a moment in time, there is nothing you can do but stare, incredulous as your breath hitches in your throat and your body stills, the rain still so relentlessly coming down upon your hesitating form and soaking clothing. You can do nothing but look at her with disbelief as emotion floods you, and you are lost in a sea of shock and your own snagged words, trapped in your throat. How could it be that she is so selfless to someone so undeserving, so unkind? What worth are you, someone so ignorant and unknown? Who are you to her, as apathetic and cold as your demeanour represents? What need, what feeling did she ever possess, to feel so compelled to do something so selfless? What do you mean to her, that she would appease you of all people, and with such passionate anticipation, so child-like in her delight?
Her hands are dusted with chalk and streaked with rain as she folds them and looks at you, smiling with a pride and satisfaction that shines beyond her thin body and gaunt face.
“You won’t need to be homesick now.”
You turn to look at her, wordless, but she sees your eyes – as wide and disbelieving as they are.
And in that moment, you know she has understood.