He tipped his hat, let it roll down his arm, put it back on his head. He was on the floor and then back up again, moving with nimble grace. An appreciative semi-circle gathered , cheering him on, watching him dance.
We had helped him to pick out the suit he was wearing. Who knew that he would be looking this good, three hours later? In silhouette, he recalled Michael Jackson in his heyday. He tipped his hat as he walked past us. The jacket sat perfectly on his slim shoulders.
Who knew that he would be sleeping on the streets three hours from now?
It was 11pm on a Christmas Day which was speeding joyously into Boxing Day. We had found the only bar that was open in the city centre. It was filled with a motley selection of people, but they were all smiling, dancing and laughing with a particular abandon.
We had spent 12 hours of this day in a tall, skinny building, which was wedged into a row of offices as if hunching its shoulders, deep in the winding heart of the city.
It was a hive of activity.
Something different was happening on each floor, but it was all for Crisis. The charity provides Christmas Day dinners for homeless people, with the help of a swarm of volunteers which this year included us. On one floor was the Christmas party, on others were chiropodists, hairdressers, doctors, welfare advisers. Right at the rickety top of the building was a clothing store, chaotic with donated clothes. They hung on rails, they spilled out of bin bags; clothes of every size and every colour, shoes wagging their tongues in rows along the floor. People queued at the counter and told us their size, and we searched in the disarray for clothes that would fit them.
He came in wearing a tracksuit, regulation black, and some trainers which may have been white one day.
‘I want a suit,’ he said.
Which was good. In the clothing store sat row upon row of jackets and trousers, in varying shades of blue, black, grey, tweedy brown, largely unwanted and overlooked.
Volunteers brought armfuls of suits for him to inspect. He tried on the jackets, he held the trousers up against himself.
‘That’s no good,’ he said ‘it doesn’t hang right.’
They brought more suits, but he wasn’t keen on the colour or the fit. Tens of people came and went, satisfied with their clothes, but he was still there.
‘Do you have one in brown?’ he said, and someone brought him a trilby hat. He put it on, gave a twirl. The busy workers laughed despite themselves. They brought more suits, and eventually, he found the one, and he danced out of the clothing store and out of the cold, shivering grey building and here he was
Glowing under the warm lights of a bar at 11pm, on Christmas Day; this place and time where – just for a moment – we were all equal.