H. van den Ham 1994 / Gemeentearchief Amsterdam

The drop-in shelter

He moves along with music that no one else can hear, sporting a wide grin on a face deeply etched by life. An imposing man wearing a hat and mismatched shoes. He sits at the table with a cup of coffee but hasn’t drunk from it yet. Maybe he forgot how the coffee, which he had just been longing for as he stood waiting at the shelter door in the cold having arrived too early, cools off so fast. Like Stevie Wonder his head sways left to right. The eyes closed.

A street comrade sits sleeping at the table next to him. Resting on his arms his head seems heavy and tired. His hands are black with filth, the dark hair dishevelled and grungy. The pants covering his thin legs are definitely in need of a change. The volunteer leaves him in peace. She knows that a shortage of beds means he spent the night walking around. Briefly she passes her hand over his back. He’ll be able to a shower in a bit and then pick out some clean clothes from the donation box. Maybe she’ll suggest that he look for a warm jacket. There was already frost last night. Then there’s soup.

The man with the grin opens his eyes with a start and takes a deep gulp of coffee. Water drips down along his neck from under his cap. He’s already showered. He feels fresh and human again for a little while. Now his dirty clothes lie in the laundry basket marked ‘to wash’. Tomorrow or the day after someone else will be wearing them.

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