When I arrived at the Cathedral it was early but light. As I parked my car I noticed a small group of men and boys of the choir waiting to be let in to rehearse.
Greeting them, I went on ahead to unlock the door, and was faced with a confusing sight – the steps were strewn with rubbish and bundles of rags. It took me a moment to realise that the large bundle on the top step, pushed up hard against the double doors, was, in fact, a sleeping man, wrapped in cardboard and lying on bubble wrap. It took longer to understand that the much smaller bundle, nearer the bottom of the steps, was also a sleeping man, a man with a wheelchair, a man without legs.
“Just step over him,” said the choirmaster quietly.
I put down my bag and basket, leaned across, unlocked the door, and stepped over the body. The choir followed.
“Have you come across these ones before?” I asked. “Do you do anything?”
“They’ve been here before, we don’t do anything, they wander off by themselves after a while,” was the reply.
I was unsettled, and hesitated before remembering that I needed to turn on lights and deactivate the alarm.
People now started arriving one by one, stepping over the motionless figure.
After a while, one of the choir men said he thought I should call the police. We exchanged a few comments about choirboys and life on the streets in a wheelchair, and we shook our heads. Then I made a phone call. The call was not answered so I walked the short distance to the Police station where I was told a patrol would be sent.
When I returned, the smaller man and the wheelchair had gone, and the Clergy had started to arrive.
One of the Priests came in from outside and then returned to the door. Opening it from the inside, he crouched down and spoke to the sleeper in a very gentle voice.
“You really need to move now, people will be coming through all the time. Here, let me help you. There is another doorway just down there, you can tuck yourself in and not be disturbed. Let me show you. Do you need a cup of coffee?”
The sleeper was now sitting up blinking. He picked up a clean plastic bag containing an open carton of milk and some breakfast cereal. The Priest picked up some cardboard and bubble wrap, and showed him the way to the other doorstep.