Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):
Night had fallen, they’d emerged from the Métro and Laurent had chaperoned him as far as the soup kitchen at Saint-Eustache, where he managed to sort him out a blanket before leaving him, though not before telling him to drop by and see him in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. “You need anything, bro, just ask for me.”
Vernon had collapsed in a doorway of a boulangerie sheltered from the wind and had woken up—in the middle of the night this time—shackled to a brutal hangover and without the first idea where he could find water. He had headed up toward Pyrénées Métro station only to stop at Goncourt, dead on his feet. He had been having trouble breathing for a few days. He had sat down by the church, thinking that maybe he could pass for some suit out on the tiles waiting for someone in the cold. Then he had held out his hand. It had not been premeditated. He had simply made the gesture—once again feeling it was not quite real. Despite Laurent’s advice, begging while sitting down worked out better than he had anticipated—maybe, given that he still looked like a relatively normal guy, people could identify. In the first three hours, he managed to pocket twenty euros. Beginner’s luck. Shadowy figures slowed, fumbled in their pockets, and dropped coins into his cupped hand. There were the tightwads who came on like good Samaritans and coughed up only five cents, the spendthrifts who never gave less than two euros. There was no correlation between the apparent wealth of the passerby and the size of the donation. This was when Vernon lost all interest in the faces. When he got up, he had pins and needles in his legs, he invested in a kebab and a beer and wandered around looking for a bench where he could eat in peace. As he walked, he came across a young man sleeping on the sidewalk guarded by three huge dogs, a mixed-race girl with frizzy hair sitting talking to herself in a telephone booth among dozens of plastic bags. He passed an old man sitting on the sidewalk outside a building listening to his radio, surrounded by so many curious objects it was as though he had re-created his apartment on the street. He had never noticed there were so many people in his situation. When he reached Jourdain Métro station he sat down again, giving a wide berth to the other homeless people pitched outside the church and the Monoprix.