Mrs. T is seated on the steps of a Brussels tube station. As usual, she wears a headscarf and a flowered dress. When we invite her, she accepts our invitation, sometimes with a broad smile on her smooth and tired face, to get out of her daily routine for a moment, far from the traffic noise and the passers-by who brush past her mercilessly.
We’re going for a coffee; she tells us that she’s again living moment by moment, day by day, without any idea of what comes next.
She is calm, just states a fact.
However, she recently visited a home, which she can move into by the end of the month. We remind her. A home of your own, what an incredible project! So incredible that she can hardly believe it.
She’s looking for faults. “It’s too small”. She fears she’ll feel cramped. Four walls can finally make her feel safe. But they can also come across as intimidating and even stifling for someone like her, who survived for such a long time out in the open on uncomfortable and cold steps.
Not wanting to believe in something, fearing that it’s bound to go wrong again: we often see that among our patients.
Don’t hope too much and never trust anything – to avoid falling too deep afterwards.
Yet, during our conversation, Mrs. T allows herself to dream about the things she could do in that home, all hers. Cooking? Her eyes light up. Pasta, her favourite dish, with a nice steak: something to look forward to.
And perhaps see her children again? She told us long ago that, whenever she had a proper home again, she wanted to invite them to show she was alright.
But we shouldn’t rush things. We don’t mention it. Some possibilities must be carefully prepared.
Mrs. T looks at us and finally says, in an assured and realistic tone, atypical of her, “You’re right, one must never give up hope”.
Tomorrow, this may have been just a bright impulse, put away again, stifled by the realities of life on the street.
But we’ll be at her side to remind her, again and again, that, after everything she went through, she’s finally allowed to dream again.
(*) We do our utmost to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. However, we want to testify to how they must survive and how we are working together to reintegrate them. As a result, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in a different context. There is no direct link between the photos and the stories above.