The Leftover Men
Head towards the underpass, its mouth opening slowly ahead of you as you walk uphill. On a gloomy day, the sheer wall at the far side offers no light at the end; above it, a thousand drivers continue around the ring road, unaware of the gap below them. Losing your breath from the walk, you pause only a moment before heading in.
There are two men. One believes the way to Heaven involves standing mute, offering a magazine that interests no one; the other huddles in a sleeping bag. You scurry on, no excuse needed as he’s sleeping and doesn’t ask you for spare change, please.
On Monday, the underpass is filled with the weekend’s detritus: matchday programmes, empty cans, chip papers. Someone has been sick against the wall and others have used it as a urinal. The same two men are there, but today they are on opposite sides. Perhaps they swapped at the weekend. The man with the magazine decided to try the sleeping bag, while the man in the sleeping bag wants to try getting to Heaven. You could risk saying hello to one of them, but the man in the sleeping bag has his eyes shut and the man with the magazine has his mind on a higher plane.
How long will it go on like this? Maybe there will come a day when one them isn’t there. The man with the magazine decides there are easier ways to get to Heaven, or the man in the sleeping bag gets there first.
Or maybe he lives in a house in Tettenhall and the sleeping bag was only ever a ruse.
You take a different route to work, or get a different job. In time the underpass will be gone; cars will become obsolete and the ring road will grow wild; long-dormant plants will erupt through the concrete, covering the city with a thick carpet of greens, browns and purples.
The man in the sleeping bag wakes up as you pass.
Spare change, please?
You mutter your excuses and walk on, but the next day you buy a sandwich from the supermarket to assuage your guilt. The man in the sleeping bag isn’t there, so you take the sandwich to work, which is what you’d planned anyway. The man with the magazine is silent.
Jason Jawando writes fiction and drama. He has had short stories published in Crannog, Ranfurly Review, Prole, Bandit Fiction and elsewhere, and a short play was performed in a rehearsed reading at Birmingham Rep. He is completing an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University.