… so many homeless people …

Today’s writing prompt and my response.

The second day of this week’s challenge. The story starts here.
He had never seen so many homeless people in one place

Dirk often decided he should never have taken this job. It involved too much travel, and to non-exotic places. Not even the occasional jaunt to Europe. Today, he was driving to Landharwich, a small town way off any motorway, simply to introduce himself to a new client who had insisted on face to face contact before signing his policy. Dirk had agreed because the year was nearly over and this policy would ensure a good bonus. As he wouldn’t make the trip in one day, he’d booked into a small hotel a few miles from the town – one of those cutesy country places where the restaurant served local organic produce. Given he would get a good meal out of the journey, plus the assured (90% assured) bonus, perhaps he shouldn’t complain. He smiled, changed the play list to upbeat and put his foot down. Thirty miles to the turnoff, and then rely on Google to get him there.

It was late afternoon when Dirk arrived, hungry and irritable. He focused on the names of the buildings on the main street, searching for the client’s place of business. When he found it, he turned into a mostly empty, and free, carpark nearby. How quaint, free parking. He needed a pinch of good luck though, after his frustrating journey.

Google had been calcitrant. At every opportunity, the polite female voice insisted Dirk do a U-turn, which would have meant heading away from his destination.

Exasperated, he had pulled out the ancient physical AA Atlas from the pocket behind the front seat – kept there for old times’ sake and to make the kids laugh. He found Landharwich, a village really, switched Google off, and followed the map along increasingly narrow country lanes.

He’d only once had to reverse for a tractor, and the farmer had stared at him like Dirk had done something wrong. Not used to courtesy apparently.

Now he was here. He ran a comb through his hair, wished he had time for a bite given he’d driven through lunch, grabbed his brief case, and took the signposted path along a quiet cobbled lane to the town centre.

It was when he turned into the high street that the silence, the emptiness, struck him. No one walked on the pavement. No cars drove by. The shops and offices were closed, some with steel doors or bars over the windows. Dirk looked at his watch. It was 4.00, hardly closing up time.

He walked quickly towards the client’s office, a new awareness intensifying the uneasiness which had settled in his growling stomach.

He had never seen so many homeless people in one place. Every doorway contained one or two people bundled in coats and blankets against the early December chill. In a country town? None of them reached out to him, their expressions blank, eyes – where open – turned inwards.

The office was closed, door and windows barred. Dirk stood on the pavement listening to his thumping heart. What the hell was going on?

This doorway had its homeless person too. Dirk was about to leave, wanting to run to his car and speed out of this village of the damned, when a hand touched his shoe. He jumped back, grunted.

A young woman, dressed in a track suit beneath a good quality although grubby quilted coat, peered up at him through hair whose owner had made some attempt to keep tidy.

‘Please,’ she said, in a voice husky with cold, hunger, disuse – possibly all three. ‘Please, help me. I’m Hilary, that’s my name. I know it is.’ As if she was convincing herself. ‘Help me, please.’

Read part three here.

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