Bits of Paper and the Cross
by Debbie Roome

The singing attracts my attention, filtering down silent streets to the doorway I call home. It's an old hymn I remember from my childhood. Annoyed at the early awakening, I stuff my blanket away and limp across the road to the public restrooms. The mirror reveals a mess of grey. Grey hair, grey whiskers, grey stumps where teeth have rotted, grey clothes engrained with filth. No wonder people avoid me.

Another homeless man wanders in. "It's Good Friday." he says."There's something happening in the square."

I spit towards the hand basin. God only cares about those who gather in cathedrals and wear fine clothes. I don't matter to Him or them. I'm just a nothing and even those who toss coins my way, don't communicate - besides what would they say? "Lovely day, Mr Tramp. How's your garden doing? Been on any trips recently? Have you seen the new suits at Ballantynes?"

I stomp out of the restroom and across the pavement, cold air seeping through ancient shoes. My stomach is grumbling and I decide to head to the square, anyway. Maybe there'll be some food available.

In spite of the early hour, throngs of people fill the area. A cross stands tall in the centre of them; a rough wooden structure with bits of paper pinned all over it. A group stands to the left, singing a familiar hymn.

On a hill far away
Stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame...

I push through the crowd and they drift apart, moving away from my filth. "What's happening?" I demand as I reach the foot of the cross. An elderly woman looks up, face creased behind round spectacles.

"We're remembering the death of Jesus. You do know He died to take away all the bad things you've done?"

"What are all the bits of paper for?"

I can see she's nervous as she pushes a pen and some papers towards me. "They're for writing down your sins. When you're done, you can pin them to the cross as a sign of accepting God's forgiveness."

A beefy man approaches from the right. "Everything alright here, Edith?"

I walk off, breathing insults about hypocrites and do-gooders. The cathedral's a few metres away and although I'm tempted to keep walking, I slouch down against the wall. With a bit of luck, someone will throw some half-eaten food in the nearby bin.

Moments later, I see a figure approaching. He looks to be in his thirties, swarthy, with hair dreadlocked into coarse ropes. I've seen him before somewhere - sometime. As I run through old memories he stops in front of me. "Do you mind if I join you?"

No one has ever asked me that.

He drops down next to me and swings his backpack to the front. "I've got some hot lamb sandwiches." He hauls out a package and hands it to me. "Open it up while I get the juice out."

I'm curious and suspicious. Very suspicious, but hunger wins the battle. I shovel one sandwich after another down my throat with no regard for table manners. "So what do you want?" I ask.

"To spend some time with you."

I laugh, sarcastically. "No really. Why are you here this morning?"

"Just passing through."

"Where're you from?"

"Here and there."

I let out a loud burp after a swig of fizzy grape juice. I wish it was wine, warming my innards and dulling the pain but it's better than nothing. Leaning back against the wall, I look across at my benefactor. "So what's the catch? You doing a newspaper article on drunken bums?"

His eyes smile as he answers. "I told you, I came to spend some time with you."

"No one in their right mind sits on a hard pavement with a tramp." I gesture at the church people, singing, praying, pinning bits of paper on the cross. "Why not go mix with them?"

"I've come to see you."

My mind runs through family members, people I haven't seen for years. Could he be a nephew or a cousin or an old acquaintance?

"I'm none of those."His voice is strong and his eyes seem to penetrate my soul.

"Who are you then?"

"We've met before, a long time ago."

I shake my head. "You look familiar but I can't place you."

He reaches out a hand and as he places it on my shoulder, I notice a deep scar, a sunken gouge by his wrist. "What did you do to your hand?"

"An old injury. Happened years ago."

His touch is tender and warmth flows into my skin, into my body, into my heart. No one touches homeless people unless they want something and I'm used to violence and harsh words. "Who are you?" I ask again.

"We met when you were ten. At the altar in your mother's church."

I close my eyes and something shifts beneath my grime and brokenness. That was the day I gave my life to God. An incredible sense of awe overwhelms me...he isn't, he can't be. I open my eyes but he's gone. The only thing left is a lamb sandwich, a can of grape juice and some scraps of paper and a pen.

For the first time in a decade, hope surges into my heart as I start writing.

Debbie Roome is passionate about writing stories that touch people's lives and point them to God.

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