They call me Tar. It is short for my real name – Suttar. I don’t care for names though… they are just labels, and me, well I am something more that. No one calls me by my name anyway.
I live beneath the world of names. In the shadows I remain, hidden away from prying eyes. It is better this way, for when people see me they look away in disgust. They have contempt and hatred in their eyes. I don’t know why they hate me. I don’t even know them. I never met them. They just hate me because of what I am. It is sad to be hated for who you are because you cant change that. I was born this way. I hate myself sometimes because of it, because I cant change who I am, and because everyone hates me for it. I can understand hating someone for the way they act, but for me they just hate me no matter what I do.
And so I hide away from the world, live in the shadows, sleeping on the streets in places not often looked upon – in bus shelters, under park benches or in the undergrowth behind some bushes. I come out at night and only spend time with my fellow street dwellers. They are my only friends and we live the streets together. Friends because no one else what’s to know us. Friends because we understand our plight. Friends because we face prejudice together.
It’s best when those other types – the people working their jobs in the city – pretend we don’t exist. It’s easier that way. The less they know about us the better, probably for all of us, I reckon. Sometimes they raid us. It is a purge; a genocide. They come at us hard, and try to break us, destroy us and run us into oblivion. We are too smart though. Survivors can always get by, especially when you are hated by everyone. It keeps you wary and well hidden, anxious and untrusting of the others. Most of the time people don’t even notice me. And if they do, they are disgusted. I sometimes watch them and wonder what they would do if they knew I was right nearby… scream probably, and then chase me off or run away as fast they could.
I steal all my food from garbage bins. It’s not really stealing because the food has been thrown out. And I don’t want to let it go to waste. No wants it. I may as well have a nibble. Their trash is my treasure ha-ha.
I live in an alley way in the city. There is about five restaurants all in a row, and the each kitchen backs on to the alley way. There are always scraps of food, and leftovers, bags of rubbish and uneaten dinners. The chefs throw bags of this glorious food out the back, into the alley bins, and then I scurry over as quickly as possible, eat what I can before they return for smoko. I eat anything … you name it, I’ll eat it. Potato skins, fish bones, fatty meats, half eaten chicken drumsticks, chips, chunks of old fruit and veg which have gone off, cheese, pizza, anything. I don’t mind how old it is or if it is cooked or raw or half eaten. It is food, and it is better than nothing. Meat is my favourite though. I love it, and it is rare to find so always a treat.
The alley is packed with others like me. We live on the street: under bins, behind benches, anywhere there is a little shelter. When the food comes out, we all get up and head over to the bins, clawing at bags, ripping them open as quickly as possible, competing haphazardly for a shot at a meal. It is important to be quick, and to get to the leftovers first, otherwise it might all be gone, and I’ll be left foraging on the ground for the last scraps that remain. The off-cuts that not even my fellow street-dwellers want to eat.
We get on okay. They have their lives and I have mine. We are sort of in this together. At least, we know what is like to be us. We can empathise, one downtrodden brother to another, and can collectively feel r the contempt that people have for us. It brings us together, like going into battle.
Yeah we get our own food and have our own patch of land, our bed to sleep in, with a bit of straw or some old cloth. We still know each other and communicate when we need to. When there is a run on for food, we pile over each other to get it; grab what we can. Occasionally there is a tussle or fight, but usually it doesn’t last long, things settle down quick, and we go back to our life on the streets. Most of the others are nice enough. I haven’t got a problem with them, and as I said, we live in the shit. We are the forgotten vagrants of the world. We are treated with disdain. People sometimes try and kill us. They chase us away from a park bench, curse at us. Throw things towards us with evil intent. We can’t fight back, they are too big and too strong. And it is their society, not ours. Best to keep the head down and avoid another purge. What are we? Nothing! They would rather we didn’t exist. They hate us and call us names and make us feel worthless. Like scum. It is discrimination. And it is horrible. I now know how others must feel who have been discriminated against, for their race or colour, for what are they, for how they were born or how they choose to live.
I chose the alleyway, with my fellow friends, at the bottom of the rung. We are who we are and we are not going away. So yell at us, try and kill us, scare us away – it don’t make a difference because we are going to be here forever. We are survivors. We’ll probably out live the lot of ya.
I know this because I have been surviving for years. I have seen a lot. I have seen people come and go, restaurants open and close, things changing with the time… and I’m always here, under an old awning, by a pile of rags, I collected. It has everything I ever need. It is my warmth, my shelter, my camouflage, and my protection from the world. My patch!
I live in the rags, they are dirty like me. Although I do clean myself and wash in the nearby fountain, at night, when there is nobody about. I am cleaner than people know. They think I carry diseases, that I am unclean, and if they come near they may catch a virus or something nasty. It is not true, maybe once, someone like me had a disease which was passed on, and maybe some people died. But there are hundreds of diseases and anyone can catch them. There is no great plague in my blood. It is just hatred. Wanting to be angry at me, to be angry at us all, to claim we are all filled with disease; that we are dirty vagabonds that don’t deserve to live… well that is a lie, and awful dangerous lie that has led to the deaths of many of my friends.
Surely we can all get along. There is a spot for everyone. I keep out of the way. I live here in the alley. I don’t disturb anyone. I don’t even come out during day. I hide away, and then get out at night; scavenge some food, see what I can find on the streets. I’m doing a service – cleaning up what the others leave behind. Without me, and my lot, the streets would be filled with rubbish and leftover food scraps and then there would be disease. It would be everywhere. I don’t cause disease, I stop it.
I have had some cousins taken in by people in white coats. I don’t know where they go, but one of them escaped and told me that he was locked in a cage and each day the people in white coats rubbed different creams on his back, and gave him injections. He thinks they were testing different creams and medicines on him, analysing their effect. He died shortly after, I think he was poisoned. Another hero dead. Another rat gone.
I am smart, I know things, I can sort things out, I can work out problems, and I always get by. I evade the traps and the poisons set for me. I am too smart for them, too street wise. That is what you get from living on street, looking after yourself all day, not trusting anyone, you learn to be smart. You have to, for there is no other way.
We are able to do things that others can’t. Our senses are heightened from this life on the street. We need our noses to survive. I bet we could sniff out bombs and others things if required. We could be helpful to this society. Instead we are looked at with disdain, treated like vile criminals. It is not fair, but I don’t care. I am who I am. If they don’t want my help, then I’ll just carry on living my life, getting by on the street.
Someday I imagine all of us fighting back, or gathering together in one big grey mass. I could get all of us from the alleyways, or all around the city, and we could stand up for our rights; walk down the street together, thousands of us as one. In a great big protest… a plague. Remind people who we are, what we are, and how proud we are as rats.