Preamble: At work this week, we noticed that somebody had been sleeping in the office patio located at the back of the building. Obviously, that’s against company rules and his belongings were immediately packed and thrown away. The patio was re-secured in order to prevent his re-entry but I just couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone who would brave the elements just to lay their head in such an uncomfortable place. I don’t have the answer to solving homelessness but I hope this brings a bit of attention to it.
There was a cacophony of noise around him. The honking of impatient car drivers was accompanied by an orchestra of bus mates singing aloud the destinations of their buses. Hawkers and vendors struggled to advertise their wares above the sound of hiplife music blaring away from the huge speakers located at the electronic store just across the road from him.
Despite the added noise from the myriad conversations from passers by, static from high tension wires crisscrossing above him and the hullabaloo that is part and parcel of a typical market town in Accra, he could still hear his little girl, her hand tightly clutched in his, reciting a new nursery rhyme she had learnt at the local public primary school she attended.
But all of these couldn’t compare to the loud voices of hope and happiness that had awoken in his heart. He had finally checked his bank balance that day after dashing out during the hour’s break he had at the construction site where he worked as a laborer. Usually, he never got a full hour’s break because there was always something that kept them working late or that they needed to start early. That day had been different and it seemed the fates were shining on him when he got to the bank and found an almost empty bank with just a few customers present. The attendant at the bank had been kind enough to help him fill his details, assuming wrongly that he was uneducated since he had arrived in his work clothes. He hadn’t minded however and her help certainly sped up the process.
He was overjoyed when he finally saw his bank balance. It wasn’t much, no, but in just a few months he had been able to save almost enough to rent a one room apartment for himself and his daughter. The numbers on the bank balance sheet felt like justification for denying himself some very basic amenities. He knew he had been hard on himself and even his daughter but all they needed was to endure for a couple more months.
He wanted a better life for his daughter; one that didn’t involve sleeping in an abandoned office patio of a company building as they currently did. He had been desperate when he found the place and at first he couldn’t imagine how anyone, let alone him would sleep in such a place but over the past few months he had made the patio some sort of home. He had been able to get an old, small, foam mattress as well as a mosquito net for his daughter. He had even gotten candles and a bucket. He still slept on the cold, hard floor since he had to be awake before five o’ clock in the morning in order to cajole awake his little girl, tidy up their sleeping quarters and hide all traces of their presence before any of the office workers resumed work in the morning. This strategy, though incredibly dangerous and taxing had helped him escape notice in the past few months and all he needed was to endure for a few more months.
It was the smell that finally pulled him out of his reverie. The pungent smell of burning foam and the unmistakable tinge of kerosene. He stopped, transfixed, unable to move or think. All he could do was gape. There was the mosquito net; completely unrecognizable as it had been burnt to ashes. He couldn’t locate the bucket. Had they taken that too?
His daughter’s silence forced him to move. He needed to do something, to know something, to hit something; anything to remove that sinking feeling in his heart as he finally got very close to the patio and noticed the final change: a wire mesh, around the patio, preventing any entry and a huge padlock on the wooden door effectively putting out the flames of hope and perseverance that had lit up in his heart.
As he turned away from his now previous “home” he couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to survive with his daughter on the streets. He was homeless again and where there had been hope a few minutes before, there was now anger and despair.