I used to look at faces but I gave that up. Faces give me cold, distasteful stares or no stares at all. Which is worse? Disapproval or indifference?
Now I look at feet. Feet hurrying past me on the pavement, or pausing close to my sleeping bag as their owner contemplates the enticing shop window display. Business feet striding purposefully in black shiny shoes. Glamorous feet teetering unsteadily on party heels. Feet in expensive, unblemished trainers, never used for sport. Winter feet. Summer sandaled feet. Some smooth with polished toes. Some cracking angrily at the heels. Pretty feet. Ugly feet with corns and callouses or hairs sprouting from the toes. Little feet on curious children who linger to gaze at the girl lying in the shop doorway. Swollen feet, shuffling painfully out of tune with the tapping beat of a walking stick.
I used to think that feet could hurt me less than faces. Feet cannot judge or make comments. Feet cannot see. Feet have no feelings. They just keep on moving like the waves on the ocean.
I was wrong.
The feet in front of me now swagger past at first, then slow down. Indecisive feet. They come to an ominous standstill before swivelling round until the toes point towards me. Three pairs of designer trainers poised to attack. Without warning, one showers dirty water from a puddle into my eyes. Another stamps on my fingers and a third kicks me viciously in the stomach. The feet run off and the pavement is empty leaving me to drift into a world where there is no pain.
“Can you hear me?” a voice says. “Don’t worry, the ambulance is coming. You’ll be safe soon.”
I open my eyes grudgingly aware of the excruciating throbbing in my stomach and I know that I am back in the shop doorway. There are feet beside me. Authoritative feet in solid black boots. Feet I have dreaded since I ran away, and yet, in a strange way, I am glad to see them.
“We’re going to get you checked out by a doctor and then we’ll take you home.” says the policeman kindly.
“Home,” I murmur drowsily. “Yes, I’d like to go home.”
Despite protestations from the officer, I stand up painfully and for the first time in many weeks I look someone in the eye.