She was sleeping at the corner of Spencer Street and Flinders Street, her back to the wall of the 7-11. She had curled up in a fetal position under her bright blue sleeping bag. Beside her was a red suitcase. It looked new.
I could see the tear tracks on her pale cheeks. The sign she had with her was nearly covered by her sleeping bag, but I could read the message. In fact, I don't think I'd be able to forget what she wrote on that piece of cardboard:
"Help. I'm 21-years-old and pregnant. I need $150 to sleep somewhere safe tonight."
It was a bitter cold night. Winter had come early to Melbourne, as it did in Adelaide a few weeks before.
I couldn't tear my eyes away from her. Was she new to the streets? Her things looked new. Why wasn't she with her family? How was she going to take care of her baby?
Just moments before, my siblings and I had been enjoying ourselves in Melbourne. I think we easily spent the $150 the girl needed on coffee, cakes, clothes and other amusements.
After seeing her, I walked to our hostel which was a few feet away. I wondered if I should do something. Would the money go to drugs instead of accommodation, I wondered. Was she a really good scam artist, perhaps? But I remembered the tears.
I shoved $150 into my pocket and went downstairs.
But she was gone.
My chance to help the young woman was gone too. Yet I couldn't deny the relief I felt for not having to wonder if I was doing more harm than good by giving her the money.
Was she chased away? Where is she sleeping now?
A few days before that, my brother and I were at a cafe on Flinders Street. While sipping at our $4 very excellent cappuccinos, we watched a bundle at the foot of the entrance to the posh Grand Hotel.
The bundle suddenly moved, and a man sat up. He carefully and systematically unfurled a pair of pants and put it on over his long johns. Then he rolled up his sleeping bag. He put on a coat, and walked down the stairs with a bag and sleeping bag.
He could pass off as one of the many hippie Bohemians sipping coffee at Melbourne's lane cafes. No one would have a clue.
Later, he sat with his rolled up sleeping bag on a bench right opposite our seats at the cafe. We stared at each other. He, puffing on a ciggy, us, drinking our cappucinos.
He didn't seem to see us. Or perhaps he chose not to see us because he assumed he was invisible to us: he, the roofless one, we the privileged tourists who got to sleep in a soft, warm bed instead of cold concrete.
I wish incidences like these were isolated. The homeless are there if you look hard enough.
It's hard to miss - the sleeping bags neatly folded under the bridges of Southbank. You just wonder where the owners are: The unlucky ones of a "lucky country".