Thomas is tall, broad-shouldered, with a stooped posture as though he was braving a cold wind. For a “homeless person,” he is surprising good-looking with clear blue eyes that are at once distant, dreamy, and avoidant. He is 24 years old, wears unassuming black trousers, a light pullover, and comfortable, clean-looking black shoes missing their laces. In his pockets he carries nothing but his passport and a bank card.
He left home two years ago for New Zealand and later for Australia. “I had money at first. But then I sort of ran out.” He’s been a freegan ever since.
A freegan. Otherwise known as a person who gets by for free. Doesn’t pay rent, doesn’t pay for food, and doesn’t really pay for transport; seldom pays for anything, really. He lives in a squat in London, the legality of which seems tenuous to your American blood, but is quite passable in Europe. He can and has worked, but loses interest after a few weeks. His days are open, and he spends them walking around London, dumpster-diving and bin-fishing, or in his terms, “skipping.”
Freegans are like parasites. They can exist only due to the wastefulness of the current system. They create no demand. They simply make better use of things trashed or forgotten.
Just when you think you are low-budget, you meet someone with no budget. You are in awe of his resilience, and full of questions. You don’t know where to begin. You ask what his parents think of his lifestyle.
He hasn’t contacted his mother or father since he left them two years ago. You feel inappropriate asking about his relationship with his parents, but in a uniquely feminine moment, you are overwhelmed with compassion (or maybe it’s only curiosity) and ask anyway. He has little to say on the matter.
When you make acquaintanceships for mere days, there isn’t much point in establishing a connection with others. You wonder whether he is being deliberately withholding, or if his feelings for his parents amount to little more than sheer disregard. Chris McCandless from Into The Wild comes to mind; he never contacted his parents. Thomas bears somewhat of an uncanny resemblance to McCandless.
What is it about others’ desire to know that you are alright, even if they can do nothing to help you if you ever fall into trouble? It seems like a waste of energy, at best. You wonder to yourself whether you will miss the inquiry of those dearest to you. Should you fail to contact them, or should they no longer wish to know your whereabouts… what impact will that have on you?
It seems the mere act of inquiry is a demonstration of affinity.
You inquire about Thomas because he interests you. You wonder if he tires of talking of his lifestyle, so you ask him about his life views, his “philosophy in progress,” his observations. You ask for his story.
He has no plans, no passions, no relationships. He glides under people’s radar, avoids many interactions. The police make him nervous, though he doesn’t have anything to hide. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t use drugs (though he is not opposed to any of it). He wants company, and yet chooses a life that does not support lasting relationships with others. Paradoxical.
After three hours, it is past noon and he has not eaten. You walk along the streets of London and note the way he keeps to the edges of the footpath, peering into bins spaced evenly along the way. Within a few minutes you spot a man standing near a bin, eating a thick slice of pizza; he chucks it into the bin half-eaten and hurries off. Thomas snags it.
He finds other items and eats them. He offers to share. You decline. You are not interested in eating the things that are chucked into the bin, period; it has nothing to do with the fact that they were in the bin. Thomas says he has been worried about getting diabetes at times, given the amount of refined sugar and flour products that he ends up consuming. You try to assuage his fears, even though you shudder at the prospect of a such a diet for yourself.
You walk for hours, talking. You tell him about books you’ve read, people you’ve met, places you’ve been. He replies in kind. You cannot determine his level of interest or enthusiasm about very much. He has a way of mumbling which would otherwise indicate a lack of interest—as though he is inclined to make intelligent observations without judgment.
He only wears the clothes on his back. Even a spoon (something you lend him so he can eat his lunch of fish n’ chips and soup) is superfluous to him. He states many times that he has “a way of losing track of things.” Even gloves? You note how he walks with his hands balled up in the ends of his sleeves. Even gloves. You clarify that “It isn’t so much losing things as it is deliberately leaving them behind.
His countenance is always pleasant and he smiles when appropriate. He does not seem outwardly depressed or worried about anything. You call him “good-looking” and “wayward,” both of which seem to surprise and compliment him.
You ask him if, when he walks through London, he studies people intently, or if they pass him by in a blur. You cannot hear the first part of his reply, but learn in the second that he very seldom feels like he is part of the crowd. He feels very separate from everyone else.
When you part ways, you insist on giving him a hug, thinking that he can use one. He is stiff in your embrace, as though quite unpracticed at it. You wonder how long he will continue on alone.
Take care of yourself, Thomas.