Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Again and again, how many times do I need to do this?

It’s a freezing cold Sunday morning in February and I find myself on Hampstead Heath, yet again, running. Running, but not going anywhere. At least that is what the scales are telling me.

I see the familiar oak tree on the circuit, I know she is on the other side, waiting. I’m tempted to turn right and run out of the park. I wonder how long it would take her to notice? How long would it be before she judges me for abandoning her and my efforts to lose weight? Would she be disappointed in me?

I hear the lap button on the timer. “Getting quicker, Sally, nice one. Keep it up.”

I’d be pleased except I had found a shortcut to run through. Instead, I only felt shame. I had never been to the heath before January but I had already begun to loathe it: every well-trodden path, every tree, every miniature pedigree dog. In the rain, as each droplet seeps into my hair I am reminded I would rather be with the skinny girls, ordering my skinny latte mocha choca frappuccino to accompany my smashed avocado on sourdough. I look down and I am reminded I haven’t earned the privilege to brunch yet. For me, Sundays are rundays.

I had been perfectly happy with my weight. Granted I am curvier than most, with an ample breast but I am not exactly overweight. Perhaps she was right, though, I had let myself go.

I’m twenty-nine, that’s what happened. I sit in an office all day, I drink, I eat – my Mum always said it would catch up with me one day. That day came and went and I didn’t really notice. Until my sister pointed it out, that is.

Mum always complained I was a skinny bitch. She hated that I got away with eating all the chocolate and sweets. I didn’t deserve to be skinny.

Eating has become a comfort for me. It’s the one thing that makes me feel better. Eventually though, all that comfort adds up to jeans two sizes bigger and my sister staging what I can only call an intervention.

Of course it isn’t really me she cares about. My health or my happiness aren’t her concerns. She doesn’t want a fat Maid of Honour ruining her wedding photos. She doesn’t want to upset the in-laws. There was a real danger my widening waistline could end up dominating their mantelpieces for years to come.

My niece, at least, was straight forward about it. At the dress fitting she announced to the room of the bride-to-be’s closest female friends and family that I looked like Miss Piggy. That is her favourite Muppet though, she said, not that I found that any consolation. Perhaps that was why she was always trying to copy my curls, I thought, trying to recreate them in her own hair with wet overnight plaits.

“Is it because of my curls?” I had asked.

She replied, “Nope.” She blew her cheeks up, her finger pressed up against her nostrils.

If my sister‘s subtle approach wasn’t enough, then her daughter’s pig impression sure was. Kids can be cruel but at least they are honest. Perhaps it was honesty that I needed.

I need to be honest with myself; I hate my job. I eat to distract myself. Each biscuit, donut or Haribo Starmix, is an afternoon treat I look forward to. On my way into work I think about the moment that first sugary donut will hit my lips. Endorphins rush to my head. Nothing beats the first bite. I get through the day one eating opportunity at a time: late breakfast, elevenses, lunch, mid-afternoon tea break and even a light snack for the journey home.

I thought it was normal to not like your job. Work is work. You aren’t meant to enjoy it. But instead I realise it’s not just a dislike. I am overwhelmed with sadness, trapped behind a desk doing monotonous tasks for people who don’t appreciate it. The money is okay, but it hasn’t changed since I started three years ago. Plenty of new people have come in and been promoted ahead of me. I have never understood why I am always left by the wayside.

I am lonely. The only social interaction with colleagues is at the biscuit jar or when we congregate for birthday cake. I know they think I am desperate, the way I grab a slice and rush back to my desk, but I just want to get away. Making friends has never been my strong point.

I see my personal trainer in the distance. Tree trunk legs and the straightest of backs. Even the way she stands is strong, despite having a petite frame. I know I could never be as thin as her but what I need is her confidence, her strong sense of self and her determination. Perhaps that really had been what I was looking for when I decided to get a personal trainer. I needed someone to believe in me.

Why hadn’t I ever asked for a pay rise or more stimulating work? I want to be paid well and I want to enjoy my job. I need the courage to confront them. I deserve to be valued. I deserve to be given the opportunity to grow, like so many others have ahead of me. If not I will find somewhere I will be.

She signals me to stop. I hadn’t noticed the weather had worsened.

“I have been calling you to stop. Are you okay?”

I smile. I am soaked through to my skin. “I am great.” I have a plan. Losing weight is no longer my goal, but working on my self. I will run for strength and for happiness, soaking in the confidence emanating from my personal trainer. If I lose weight in the process so be it, but I am determined to walk into that wedding a happier healthier self. If I am not a pound lighter, then that is even better.

“Sally, you are doing great. Same time next week?”

I nodded. She looked at her timer. “It gets easier you know. As you get more confident you’ll be running around here at twice the speed, you won’t even realise you are doing it.”

I walk home composing my resignation letter in my mind. I know it is the right place to start.

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Mrs Lucy Jones. The ink flowed out of the golden nib, a rich, luxurious black. The fluid curves contrasted with the laid paper, textured with lines. The name looked foreign, but it was her name. She couldn’t quite believe it. 3 years, 4 months and 24 days after meeting her beloved Ben they were sat together amongst family, friends and loved ones signing the register that made them Mr and Mrs. He had taken some convincing, but Lucy had dreamed of her special day since she was a little girl and she knew it had to be big. Hundreds of guests, a stately home and the princess dress, flamboyant and excessive, even though she was in excess herself with her own little princess. An unplanned pregnancy, yes, but a shot-gun wedding it was not. They loved each other. She glanced over at the shimmering ink on the page. Their names together; it was official.

You are beautiful! The heart shaped post-it note precariously hung onto the cup of tea, delivered into the bedroom as Lucy breastfed her hungry newborn. She was exhausted after another night of broken sleep, but the thought of a warm cup of tea made her smile. Ben had slept in the other room in preparation for his day at work. He’d been back to work a few weeks now. She missed him.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” she gestured to the bedside table, “I’m looking forward to that.” He placed the fountain pen from their wedding back onto her bedside table. She thought it was cute he borrowed it to write little love notes. Such a romantic.

“Look I might be late again at work. Deadline. You know how it is.”

She did know how it was. The publishing industry was a bitch like that, she knew because she worked in it too. She had been Ben’s PA before she ventured into PR. So many acronyms, which is ironic for an industry where words are celebrated.

As he left, she smiled to hide the tears bubbling up onto the surface. She knew Ben hated her crying. It must be hormones. She had heard from others that this was hard, but she had found it a bit of an understatement so far. She dreaded the long day ahead with the constant crying, milk spit ups and sore nipples. She felt like a hamster trapped on a wheel she couldn’t get off.

Out with the lads tonight, won’t be late! She rolled her eyes. Again? When was she ever going to get a night out with her friends? He’d been working late a lot recently, he does deserve the break, but doesn’t she deserve a break too? She is annoyed she missed him again. He must have left while she was putting Alice down for her morning nap. She hates having to communicate with notes like this.

She confronted him as soon as he walked into the lounge, he’d barely unwrapped the scarf from around his neck. “How was it?” she directed the question at the TV, he wasn’t even sure she was talking to him.


“How was it?”

“How was what?”

“The Langham.” It was a hotel. She passed him the bank statement she had found, the transaction in question circled and underlined so angrily, black ink had splashed over the rows below.

“I have no i-”

She cut him off, “Don’t lie to me. Don’t say it was a work thing. Don’t say you needed a place to crash because you got so drunk that night you missed the last train home. No one just crashes in a 5 star hotel. Not for that price.”

He could have told her it was a mistake. A one-off. It wouldn’t happen again. She wouldn’t have believed him, of course, but they had a kid now. She’d have given him the benefit of the doubt. For Alice. She hadn’t wanted to go through the courts any more than he did. Instead he bowed his head. He said he was sorry. He was sorry it wasn’t working. He was sorry that he didn’t love her anymore. He was sorry it was over. It had been for some time.

Of course she felt betrayed. They had only been married 2 years, but it sounded like he had another woman on the scene from before Alice was born. He held her hand through labour, knowing he was going to destroy the family they were just starting. With every contraction, she squeezed his hand. He felt how much she needed him right there and then, knowing she would only need him more. She hoped he felt the shame he deserved to feel, but if he felt any regret he didn’t show it.

“This sofa is perfect!” Susie was so excited, she hadn’t expected to find a nice sofa in a charity shop. Her husband had insisted they didn’t buy new, despite the money they had received as wedding gifts. It wasn’t environmental, he’d said. This charity shop was more fancy anyway, this mid-century sofa looked fairly genuine. It was barely used apart from a bit of a mark on the left seat cushion, but that could easily be covered by a throw, she thought. She went to turn over the marked cushion and a sales assistant ran over, dutifully.

“Oh don’t worry, I can do it,” she insisted, “I’m not that pregnant!” She hated that just because she had a bump now, people assumed she couldn’t do things. It’s just a cushion.

The assistant helped anyway, lifting the cushion from the sofa. They heard a clatter. She went to drop to the floor, but the assistant got there first. “Hey, look," He held up a beautiful, white fountain pen, with gold detailing. "You can have that for free when you buy the sofa, if you like.” She had always fancied herself a bit of a writer. That’s why she took the job at the publisher’s in the first place. That’s where she met her husband. Although, all she ended up doing as a PA was photocopying and arranging diaries. Maternity leave could be her chance to write her book, on this sofa, with this pen. It was a sign; she had to buy the sofa. Her husband would love it. What’s not to love?

The sales assistant took her cheque. Handy that she had this new pen to sign it with. She added a few extra pounds, it was for charity after all. He promised it would be delivered in the next week. “Thank you, “ he glanced at the cheque, surprised, “Mrs Jones, thanks so much.”

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I walk in and he’s the first person I see. Wearing a crisp white shirt, hair gelled to perfection, his name badge perfectly straight. I approach him cautiously, “Any chance I can use the loo?” He screws up his face and backs away. Did he hear me? I start to panic, the pressure on my bladder almost at breaking point. I’m in need of relief. The need of relief on my bladder is urgent, but also relief of the dirt and grime of London’s streets. Another person who refuses to help me.

Welcome to London.

I have been on the streets a while now, but of the seasons I find Summer the hardest. The days are warm, but the nights are cold. Layers of clothes don’t offer the comfort they do in the Winter. They only aid to make it so warm, the smell radiating from me is comparable to a festering refuse bin waiting for collection. There is no hiding the grime on my skin. Hours spent on a busy, polluted road in the sweltering heat, the sweat becomes the sticky layer the exhaust fumes are attracted to. My tired smile struggles to break through the disgust I feel for myself. I don’t blame him for walking away.

It’s busy, it must be nearing work time. I am missing my busiest footfall. My best chance of a warm croissant, the smell of which fills the air of the café. I suppress the thoughts as my mouth salivates a little. I negotiate my way through the queue, making my way to the back of the café in search for a toilet. “Sorry,” always apologising for my being there, am I not entitled to use the toilet like anyone else? I am only human.

In the bathroom I confront my reflection. I barely recognise my face, it is so tired and aged, patchy with grime. My clothes, old and worn, I certainly look the part. I take off my beanie hiding my dishevelled hair thick with oil and set about washing my face. The cool water on my hands soothes the cracks in my skin. My eyes look back, exhausted, these testing Summer hours are taking their toll. Long days on busy streets. Thousands of people walk by without so much as a second glance back to me. I am wearing the invisibility cloak made by poverty and sheer bad luck. I sit underneath it in the hope that someone will see me. A small chance of a sandwich, a warm drink or even a chat. It's been so long since I've told my story.

I was once one them, one of the busy commuters. Head down, eyes on my phone, or my polished brogues as I braced myself for a day in the office. I enjoyed my job, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t bad days. Sometimes I felt too old and cynical for the blinding enthusiasm of my young colleagues. I was called into the office one morning, and told they didn’t have a role for me any more; I was being made redundant. I had my month’s notice, but I had only worked there just shy of a year so I wasn’t entitled to any more money than that. I struggled to find new work; the mortgage didn’t get paid. It’s tough for an old dog like me to get back into an industry where they value youth above experience. Especially when youth costs a third of the price. In this economy, who can blame them.

Homelessness doesn’t just mean someone without a home. When I lost my job, I lost my identity and my purpose. As I wipe away the city dirt with a thin hand towel, I reveal the person who packed up and sold all his belongings all those years ago, when the house was repossessed and set to the streets without any one to turn to. It’s delicate, I want to tell guy in the crisp shirt, the safety net that protects all that you love; your house, your wife, your family. Any one of us could be made homeless; we have to look out for each other.

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