Day 166 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about what’s inside a homeless person’s backpack.
Shannon: It had been weeks now and he never came back for his bag. I didn’t know what had happened to him. I’d hoped he was okay, but it was impossible to get reach him unless we could spot him in person. I’d looked for him everyday with a little flicker of hope he’d appear out of nowhere with that heartwarming smile I’d already missed seeing everyday, but it was like he disappeared.
“Do you mind if I look though his backpack,” I asked my boss at the shelter. “Maybe he left something behind that can help us find out if he’s ok.”
“Yeah, I’d say it’s been enough time, but please don’t get your hopes up,” she reminded me with a pat on the shoulder before walking away.
I picked the bag up with care, not wanting to do anything to wreck the only possessions the man had left on this earth. I unbuckled the strap on the top of the backpack that secured a rolled-up fleece blanket. It was so thin, how could it be his only protection from the cold? How was it his only protection from the world?
I unzipped the main pocket, and a stuffed animal was the first thing that caught my eye. My mind wandered, trying to understand why it something he’d held onto. Was it for comfort? Was it his pillow? Did it mean something to him?
He had a change of clothes in the bag too. They’d held a certain odor as expected, but it didn’t stop me. He also had some snack bags and granola bars, probably things people had offered to him the last day we saw him. At the bottom there was a water bottle, a cheap pair of promotional sunglasses, a winter hat, and a pair of gloves.
I checked the small pocket in the front and found a photo of him with a young child. He once explained to me the story of how his son died, and how his life had spiraled down ever since that day. He told me he was trying to turn it around, and find some kind of meaning again. He never showed anyone this photo. I didn’t understand. He kept it with him for so long, why would he leave without it now? It seemed as if he had left it behind for us on purpose, and that hurt my heart.
Erin: She had collected some essentials: a blanket for when the nights got particularly cold, a water bottle to collect fountain water, a phone for prospective job prospects, even a bus pass for trying her luck in new areas. Things were starting to look up. She could feel things happening. Good things happening.
What does your character keep with them?
I gripped my backpack with bitten-down fingernails and squeezed the rough material to my chest, glancing around the barge with flickering eyes. As waves crashed around us onto the open floor and water sloshed around everyone’s feet, I inched further into the corner. No one was making eye-contact with anyone; there were only three of us including the captain, who puffed at an old pipe making smoke rings in the rough air above his head. Patting the outside pocket of the bag, I breathed a sigh of relief as the acceptance letter ruffled quietly under the light pressure from my frozen fingers.
There was something ominous about taking the last ferry for the week onto an island no map showed to a school I hadn’t actually applied for. But, as the mist faded in front of us and I got my fist look at Port Obscurity, the breath caught in my throat at the brilliant colours painted on the village, forests, shorelines and university campus. I knew I was a week late, but I’d had a tough time getting across the province without any money, and I just hoped they wouldn’t turn me away. If this fell through, I would be back on the streets with nothing to my name but my bag.
When we docked, there was a tense moment where the other guy, possibly a professor, paid the captain before stepping off, but the sailor just shrugged and laughed, “They’ve got you covered, kiddo, good luck with your classes.” Warmth spread from where his hand gently patted my shoulder as I looked into the old man’s smile-wrinkled face. Walking away, up the long path through the village to the university campus, I got a great view of the roiling sea around the island. From the top of the hill, even the dock looked like a pinprick between the shoreline made of crystalized sunshine and the water of molten metal. Everything I could see was in practically neon hues and harsh light.
As I walked past the shops lining the main road, I felt envy prickling in my heart at some of the items from ancient books with original leather bindings to crystals practically exuding energy through the windows. But I had to focus on making it to the dean’s office and finding my dorm room before I could consider anything else.
When I was sitting outside the dean’s office waiting for the secretary to finish an important-sounding phone call, I leafed through their pamphlets wondering who would come to the university before they’d decided to attend. One of the booklets detailed every course you could take with physical activity classes taking up an entire page, while computer sciences could have had their own booklet entirely. The next one had a list of the amenities on campus and clubs that you could join; fencing was one I made a mental note to look into.
As I was lifting a short history book from under the papers, the secretary cleared her throat loudly and motioned for me to go up to the desk. In the empty, echoing hallway, my squeaking, ratty runners sounded a thousand times louder so I stepped deliberately to avoid the ignorant noise. “Hello dear,” the middle-aged woman smiled, “what can I do for you today?” Without the slightest derogatory glance at my dirty clothes, she raised her sculpted eyebrows gently.
“Oh, uh, I just arrived, uhm,” I started, rifling through my bag and pulling out the heavily creased letter with a grunt. Careful not to accidentally rip the zipper, I did it back up and set the whole thing between my feet, handing the acceptance across to the woman with an apologetic smile. “I know I’m late, but I was hoping I could still be here. Uh, I just could, uh, couldn’t get-” I began until the secretary put up a pale-palmed hand.
Stunned into horrified silence, I swallowed the massive lump that had formed in my throat and waited for her to dismiss me. “Oh, Sandy, dear, I’m afraid we gave away this particular room,” she began, typing at the computer deftly, “but there’s one available bed in one of our larger dorm rooms just across from this building.” Letting out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding in, I chuckled in relief. “You’ll have to sign up for your classes by tomorrow, but we’ll send someone around to help you sort that out as well as a scholarship fund application; it’s purely administrative because, based on the letter, you qualify for the program.”
I was too thrilled about being admitted on a scholarship to question anything she said, so I just beamed at her. “Thank you. That’s amazing,” I murmured under my breath as she passed me the letter with a map to my dorm room and key.
I swung the door open on an enormous room with a large bed on either side; the right was cluttered with my roommate’s possessions like textbooks and pants. There was a card sitting on the bed on the left with a wax seal to hold it closed and, with minimal effort, I cracked the seal. Inside was an invitation to a meeting in a few days for a secret club, along with a key to a secret room and instructions to get there. Too happy to have been accepted into a prestigious school like this, I placed the letter on the massive oak desk on my side of the room and set to work arranging my few possessions.
The framed picture of my sister and brother went on the desk, cracked glass and all, as well as the handwritten letter from my mother the day she left us to chase her boyfriend to who-knows-where. Two bags of trail mix went into the top drawer of the desk while my extra hoody, socks and underwear went into the bottom cupboard of the wardrobe. As I brought out my diary with its scarred cover and crappy pen, I thought about how to put my day into words.
Finn stops running. His hands clutch his knees as he gains his breath back. Once he’s standing again, he turns to the wall on his left. It has large drawings painted on it. They don’t seem to have much planning, and must have been created with a spray can, rather than a brush.
Finn turns, seeing Perun standing there. “Hey, man.”
“Hey yourself, I asked you a question.”
Finn looks back at the wall. “Yeah, I like it.”
“You should. I worked hard on it. Paint’s still wet. …Now what are you doing out here?”
Finn looks at the graffiti artist, “I… uh, I need a place.”
“Did your mom kick you out?”
“No no, it’s just…” Finn puts his hands behind his back, “I just can’t go home yet.”
Perun stares at him, then shrugs, “Alright, I won’t pry. You’ll have to tag along with me, got it.”
“Yeah,” Finn follows Perun. After going around the city for a while, Perun sets his backpack down and opens it up. Finn looks over his shoulder as he takes out a couple cans of paint.
“Watch my back.” He shakes one of the cans and uncaps it. Finn looks down the street, but doesn’t see anyone. He then looks at the empty backpack. He can’t see everything, but what he does see shocks him: a couple bags of junk food, a spare pair of dirty socks, other art supplies, and a wad of cash.
“Are you…?” Finn looks at Perun.
“Keep watch, like I said.”
“Starry, what did I tell-”
“Are you homeless?”
Perun stops there. He looks at Finn, “You really think everyone has a place to go back to? Like yours?”
Finn doesn’t answer, avoiding the other guy’s eyes. When Perun is done, he packs up and heads down the street. Finn follows him.
“I’ll have you know, I’m not homeless, technically.” He ducks down an alley as a cop car comes to investigate. “I have multiple homes. Come on, they’ll start checking for us.” Finn gulps, but doesn’t back down. It’s not like he has much of a choice. He just needs to keep his hands covered.