The old man sat with his dog, the warm wind tickling his skin. Wearing only denim shorts he looked out at the waves and waited for the next ship to come. Beside him, his dog rested by his side and whimpered. The man rubbed his ears giving the dog a look only it could understand. The man then stood up and walked around, picking up scraps of fish and chips along the peer. Sitting back down he smelled the food and tried to remember the last time he ate, but instead of feeding his starving body, he fed it to the dog. They sat there together until the sunset and after all the surfers and families had left and went down to the dunes to find a comfortable place to spend the night.
He woke up at the crack of dawn, nestled between the sand dunes. The early joggers were out and the man when out to the pier before the tide came in. It was the perfect time of the year, warm enough to be summer but not overbearingly hot and without the crazy tourists. All the locals knew the man and would always talk to him and the dog, but the tourists ignored him and made assumptions. Druggo, thief, addict; but none of them actually knew why he was on the streets.
As he sat on the grass under the tree, a young girl about the age of ten came up to him.
“Hello,” she said shyly and swished her pigtails around. “Can I pet your dog?”
“Ok,” the man replied. “But be careful with her. She’s not too strong nowadays,” the girl nodded and began scratching the chocolate labrador’s ears.
“What’s her name?”
“Bella. Means beautiful,” he said, and you could see the love in his eyes.
“Is she yours?”
“Of course. I’ve had her since she was a pup.”
“Then why doesn’t she have a collar? How will people know she is yours? When she gets lost who will people call without a collar?”
The man patted his pockets and shrugged. “I got no phone, and she never gets lost. We have a connection. I was only a young boy when I found her. She was cold and hungry, just like me and I held out the side of my jumper and she jumped right in. Sometimes she tries to go there. But she’s a bit too big now,” he laughed to himself.
“Oh, so, like Red Dog. You know the Australian classic?”
“Nah never saw a movie before in my life.”
“Ok well I have to go see you later!” the girl exclaimed and ran towards the water’s edge. The man smiled, even gave a small chuckle and scratched his long silver beard.
The man walked barefoot along the road. To most, the heat would burn away at their feet and the hard rocks would make them wince. But to him, it felt like walking with shoes on. He opened the door to the shop. Although, he couldn’t read he knew that this was a good place.
“Welcome,” said Judy, the woman working at the desk. As far as he could remember the man had known her all of his life. She had been one of the people that had first found him on the pier as a child, wrapped up in a blanket.
“We’ve had some new thing things donated that I think you will absolutely love,” she squealed excitedly and clapped her hands together. “Let me get them, I’ll be a few minutes,” and then she left the room. The man took a seat on the floor instead of the seats. He was failing to clean his already disgusting feet when a boy walked in. He was very dirty and had unhealthy skin, like the man. The boy looked about twelve and gave a small smile. There weren’t many people in poverty around their area but there were a few and they all looked out for each other. Judy came back out with a box in her hands.
“Oh good, James you're here,” she exclaimed. “We have a few things for you too. There’s only limited food but I can finally give you some underwear,” the boy grinned from ear to ear. For him, Christmas had come early, new underwear was hard to come by because you can’t donate second-hand jocks. She took out some underwear for him and passed the old man the box. Looking through it he took a few pairs of faded tops and a blanket with only a small hole. But when he got to the bottom his eyes widened. Inside lay a tennis ball. Picking it up, he turned it around his hands and threw it to the dog and the canine then chased after it.
“Mame,” he said to Judy. “thanks, I’ve never been able to get Bella what she really needs and wants but now,” he threw the ball again as she ran after it.
“Oh yes, I thought you might like that,” she replied and continued to help the child find something to eat.
Instead of going straight back to the beach, the man went for a wander down the street. He couldn’t get anything, but he felt like a walk. The old man always made the most of the sun because he knew that soon enough it would be over and he instead would have harsh icy winds and rain. He wouldn’t be able to sleep on the dunes. He went into sheds and community buildings, but Bella didn’t like it as much and neither did he. The man passed a few surfers that he recognised and a few people greeted him. But there was one lady that stopped and had a conversation with him.
“Hey,” she said. She looked like she was in her mid-twenties; 30 years younger than him, and dressed in expensive, branded clothing. “How are you doing lately,” he didn’t know the girl, but she seemed nice.
“Oh, warmer now. Doing better, aren’t we Bella?” and the dog barked on command. “We got a ball for her today. Best thing that has happened to us in a while,” and even though it was a simple, cheap thing to the man and his dog, it was worth a million dollars.
“Oh well,” the lady scrambled through her pockets and pulled out two lotto tickets. “Here have them both. Who knows, it could be your lucky day. It gets pulled tomorrow for 20 mil,” and passed them to him. The man shook his head.
“Thanks but no. I can’t take these from you. We have our ball, that’s all we need.” The lady didn’t stop handing them to him. The old man sat with his dog, the warm wind tickling his skin.
“I don’t need them. Fine, I’ll take one. But you have the other, you need it more than me,” and with that, she ran to catch a bus that had just pulled in, leaving him with a ticket. The man looked down at the slip of paper. He would’ve given it back but he couldn’t now.
The next day was rough. The tide had come in while he was sleeping, and he and Bella had to make a run for it. The tennis ball was fine, but the new blanket was wet, cold and smelled like salt. So the man went to the cafe right along the edge of the dunes. They always welcomed the man and his dog there. He sat at a table by the wind looking out at the beach. The man watched surfers ride the waves. Ever since he was little, when other kids were in class he would collect scraps and watch the surfers along the waves always wishing that one day it would be him. Even as the years passed, he became too old to surf and be consumed by the whitewash. But that didn’t stop him from praying that one day his troubles would drift away and he would ride the waves as he had always dreamed of.
Everyone in the cafe was buzzing. It was lotto time. The man took the ticket out of his pocket but didn’t move from his seat. This cafe was the only one he really went to because it was right along the beach and allowed dogs inside. Not only that, it wasn’t a fancy modern place, it was for the locals. People came from the beach and went inside still in their wetsuit and dragged sand in with them. But no one minded. That was just the way here. But ever since someone won the lotto a few years ago in the cafe, it had become a big thing.
“And now for 20 million dollars, the numbers are 2, 10, 9, 5-” the man on the TV read. The old man didn’t even look down; he couldn’t read, anyway. Lots of groans were happening around the room as a waitress came to check everyone’s cards. She came up to the man and read it. Her face turned white and looked back at the TV screen.
“Oh my God,” she screamed. “You’ve just won the raffle!” everyone crowded around him and Bella started whimpering around his ankles.
“Don’t worry girl, it’s all right,” he whispered and shook her ears. The room filled with ‘wow’ and ‘I can’t believe it’ as the owner of the cafe came out.
“Mate, do you know what this means?” he said.
“Nah,” the man replied, and the owner shook his shoulders.
“Robert, you have just won 20 million dollars! That is a lot of money. You could buy a house, get a dog bed for Bella and the list goes on. Robert, you are now one of the richest men in town,” the old man, Robert, couldn’t believe it. There were several things he thought about himself and rich wasn’t one of them.
“Bella,” he said and clutched the chocolate labrador in his arms. “It will be all right. We will be all right,” and he let a tear fall into her fur. The man didn’t cry much because you learn on the streets fast that any bit of weakness you show will cause harm but this wasn’t a weakness, this was hope for the future.
6 months later all the forms and payments had been made and Robert finally had a house to live in, a bed to sleep in and a kitchen to eat in. Both Robert and Bella were happy and grateful. They had bought a house by the beach so they could still walk along the sand every day. Today had been the day that they had been waiting for. It would be the day that Robert would go out into the water to surf. He got into a wetsuit he had bought and grabbed a shining new board that had just been waxed and left with that in one arm and Bella in the other.
Robert was out the back waiting for the next set of waves to come. He didn’t stand up on his board or even try, he just enjoyed the pure delight of paddling with the cool water against his arms. Although he had gained weight fast Robert was still very skinny and frail. He was realising now more than ever that he was not as young as he had once been. It felt so strange to him to be looking from the sea onto land. For years he had sat watching the horizon of the sky and water but now he was in the water and looking out onto the shore. Robert loved it and for once in his life, he felt that there was a reason for him to be on the earth; to do great things.
Soaking wet, he walked along the main street with Bella at his heels. He had decided to do what he had watched so many people do in years before, after going for a surf; getting a smoothie from the Juice Shack. Robert walked with purpose as he went to the shop but as he passes someone all too familiar, his steps slowed to a stop and his once proud face filled with hurt. It was James, the young boy who lived on the streets whom he had always looked out for. Though they had never really talked to each other he had always been there. As he looked up and saw Robert, James’s face filled with surprise then hope and then sadness again. The two exchanged smiles and Robert passed the boy a twenty dollar note.
“Stay safe,” he said. “If you need any help, just come to me,” and James nodded solemnly.
“Always,” and with that, Robert walked away.
Over the next few days, Robert couldn’t stop thinking about James and his past life.
“What do you think, Bella?” he said while walking on the beach. “He needs me. All the homeless do. We know what it’s like to be starved, cold and abandoned, and those darn politicians don’t and won’t do anything about it. So should we?” and he pondered his thoughts for the rest of the day.
Only weeks later, Robert was about to present his thoughts to the local council. Outside the room, his hands were sweating and his knees were wobbling. But mainly he was worried about Bella whom they had taken before Robert could enter the building. A woman opened the door and ushered him in.
“Good luck. Do well,” he stepped in and noticed that every person in the room was wearing a formal suit or dress. He looked down at his shorts and T-shirt and hoped no one noticed, cleared his throat and started.
“Living on the streets, or in my case on the dunes, is something you have to experience to know.” he looked around and most people seemed relatively interested.
“There is no guarantee of food, shelter, warmth or even a tomorrow. You learn fast to fend for yourself but that only goes so far. Don’t show weakness. But no one can stop the ice in winter. You have to put up with so much, which is why we should help. Having a community centre open to the public can do so much of a difference. It would offer a place to sleep and live. We don’t ask for much because we don’t have much. The homeless just ask for a little human dignity and kindness,” he paused unsure how they would react.
“And why should we listen to you? You can’t even write or read. You are only here only by pure luck,” a chubby man on the other side of the table said. It stabbed like bullets into Robert’s heart but he hid it well. Show no weakness.
“Because, I know what it’s like in a way none of you will,” he replied. “I grew up on the streets with no money, no home and no family. I never had a mum to tuck me into bed. I never had a dad to teach me how to play football. I didn’t have anyone. I want to be that saviour person in people’s lives that I never got. Because right now as we speak,” Robert pointed out the window. “There are young boys fighting for survival on the harshest streets in the area. A young boy, James, doesn’t get to go to school or have a safe place to sleep at night. By building this, who knows, maybe we could help people like him, just that little bit,” and with that he walked out, knowing that he had shaken them.
It was three years since Robert had won the lotto. He never would have guessed that he would stand here but, there he was. At the opening of the new Ocean Grove Community Center. All the effort he had put in was finally worth it. James came up to Robert and gave him the biggest hug that he could manage with tears in his eyes.
“Thank you,” he whispered and went inside. Robert didn’t go in, instead, he stayed out sitting on a seat with Bella in his arms. He sat there staring at the engraved plaque on the outside of the building and, for the first time in his life, started to read.
Named after Robert. (last name unknown)
After being found as a baby on the beach with no family coming forward to collect him, Robert lived in poverty. He slept along the sand dunes with his chocolate labrador. After a harsh life of picking up and feeding off the scraps of the beach, around the age of fifty, Robert then received a lotto ticket and within 24 hours he had won twenty million dollars. After that, it became his mission to help others like him that were living it hard. It was largely through his initiative and many donations that enabled our new community centre to be built Robert continues to prove today, that no matter where people live or what they have to do to survive, everyone is human.