Kevin laid back in his chair looking up into the clear night sky showcasing all the stars in their glory, for a moment he stopped to think “how on earth did I get here?”. 15 years ago, he thought living this type of life would have been a total impossibility for him.
16 years earlier
“Kevin for the umpteenth time! Clean up your room! It looks like a bomb went off in there and it smells awful”, Jane shouted down the hallway. “No one asked you to go in there mum. It’s my room and that’s the way I like it. If you have such a problem with it, you clean it.” Kevin replied, walking past her into his room and slamming the door in her face. “Wait until your dad gets home!” She shouted into the close door.
“And when would that be exactly?” he mumbled to himself as he blared indie music and sat at his desk finishing a sketch he had started earlier. His art was his way of escaping the madness and confusion of his household. His parents had been at each other’s throats for months now and when they’re not arguing, he could feel the tension heavy in the silence. He was glad to be out of there whenever he could, so he could be himself again, engaging with sane people who had normal lives.
Jane and David weren’t always like that, they were really happy once. They did things together as a family, they laughed, they were in love with each other and everyone could see it. Kevin was a happy, bright boy who loved to talk to people and was a talented artist.
Everything changed when they started struggling financially, then David started staying at the office later and later, some nights he didn’t even come home at all. They stopped communicating like normal human beings, the Neeler household never recovered after things started going downhill. His parents eventually gave up and got divorced when he was 15 years old.
He thought things would get better between them now they separated but they kept at each other, passing the blame around for their failed marriage every opportunity they had. He loved his parents but he didn’t want to be in the middle of it all, so he decided he would rather be homeless than live with any of them. For the next couple of years, he lived rough on the streets or slept on his friends floor or couch. His art kept him going for the most part, he drew and painted to help him process so he wouldn’t go crazy.
He was sitting at the side of the road near Kings Cross Station selling art, when a short wide man in a black hat and black coat stopped as he was about to walk past, casting a shadow over Kevin. He looked up but was unable to see the man’s face clearly because of the light behind him.
He had a presence about him and a deep authoritative voice when he spoke, “What are you doing here young man?”. Kevin thought it was obvious but answered simply, “Selling my artwork, are you interested in buying?”. Without answering Kevin’s question he asked “How much do you make on average per day?”
Kevin wasn’t usually one to tell people his business but for some reason he felt compelled to answer the mysterious man’s question “a tenner maybe twenty quid” he told him honestly. Well, if you can make a £100 today selling your art, before the close of business, then come see me at my office at 5:30pm and we’ll talk. With that, the man pulled out a business card from his pocket, handed it over and walked off. Kevin only saw his back before he disappeared into the lunch crowd at King’s Cross Station.
That was by far the most bizarre thing to happen to him since he’s been on the streets and a lot had happened. He sat, looking at the card which simple read Henry, with an address on it. Rubbing it to feel the quality, he pondered for a little while about the challenge the man had just presented to him. He didn’t know why the man wanted to meet with him, but even if the guy was just wasting his time, at least he would have earned £100 for the day. Challenge accepted!
Kevin had to come up with a strategy quickly. He usually offered his pieces for £3 each because they were so small but if he made them £5 each and offered 2 for £8, then he might just do it. If that didn’t work he could always offer to draw people’s portrait in 3 mins for £5. He looked at the time and with it already being 1:20pm he only had roughly 5 hours to accomplish his task.
He knew he had to go to another populated area where people had more time on their hands…tourists he thought. He made his way to the train station, jumped the barrier and off he went to trawl through Southbank and London Bridge for potential customers.
As soon as he set foot on the train, he put on his best chatty artist tongue and started talking to people. Thankfully, he managed to have a shower this morning and had on semi clean clothes; he was sporting a semi struggling artist, semi homeless look. He was able to do 4 portraits on the train of a group of 3 girls he met, bagging him his first £20. He was off to a good start, it was now time to work his charm on the rest of the good people of London.
He got his next 5 customers within the hour, selling 3 of his original pieces and 4 portraits. Earning him another £35, meaning he was just over halfway to his target by 2:45pm. For the next hour he struggled to find anyone who wanted to even stop to hear a word from him. Checking the time every 2 minutes, he felt his opportunity slipping through his fingers and he started to panic.
Feeling disheartened he sat on a bench overlooking the Thames river, when the lady next to him noticing his work, made conversation about how unique his pieces were and how she would love some of his art in her store. She purchased 4 pieces that complimented each other, at £5 each. As a kind gesture he did a portrait of her for free because she helped to restored his faith when he was going to give up. Before leaving she gave him her details so they could keep in touch. With renewed vigor Kevin went off again to get his last few sales to make his deadline.
He closed his last sale at 4:55pm overshooting his target by £5, which made him quite impressed with himself. Checking his clock he saw that he had 35mins to get back to Kings Cross and find Henry’s office. He raced back to Waterloo station, through the crowds of commuters now making the tedious journey home, over the barrier and rushed unto the train.
He arrived at Warren Street Station at 5:28pm, running hastily through the crowd towards the exit and out towards Euston Tower across the road from the station to meet Henry. He entered the building, breathless, as the receptionist looked on waiting for his explanation for why he was there. Finally, in between breaths he managed to get out “I’m here to see Henry.” The lady looked at him expecting a surname, “Henry who? There are a lot of people in the building sir so I’ll need a surname.” Pulling the business card out of his pocket he handed it over to the receptionist. “Oh Henry!” she responded upon seeing the card, “I’m sorry sir, Henry has left his office for the day.” Kevin immediately deflated with her words, “all of that for nothing” he thought.
He thanked the lady at the reception and walked out into the busy street. “You did it then” he heard a voice come from behind him. He turned around relieved to see a short wide man in a black hat and black coat, same as the man he met earlier, standing behind him. He had a grey beard but didn’t look that old, kind eyes and a welcoming smile. “Yh I did it, I made £105” pride emanating from his being. “Well then, I guess we can go have a talk then,” gesturing ahead for Kevin to accompany him.
They sat in a coffee shop and spoke for over an hour about life and their dreams. Henry impressed by what he heard, made Kevin another offer, “If you can come up with a good business plan for what you just shared with me, then I’ll help you make it a reality.” Shocked by what Henry had said Kevin sat speechless. “I’ll give you some time to think about it. Meet me here tomorrow at 5:45pm and don’t be late.” He stood up to leave, Kevin still lost for words fumbled to his feet, they shook hands and Henry paid for their bill and left.
Kevin sat back down holding his head in his hands trying to figure out what had just happened. Was he dreaming? This morning he was struggling to survive, now he had £105 in his pocket and a stranger that was offering him the opportunity of a lifetime. He couldn’t believe his luck, out of all the people in the world, why had he chosen him? Whatever the reason he was going to grab at the opportunity with both hands and ride it out as far as he could go.
Kevin met up with Henry the next day, with a very rough draft of his business plan to prove to Henry that he was absolutely up for the challenge. Safe to say the journey wasn’t exactly what Kevin was expecting, he wasn’t given a huge cash sum to do whatever he wanted. In fact, it was the opposite, Henry became his business mentor and put him in contact with some of the best in the business arena so he could learn how things really worked. Kevin had to work hard for every penny he got along the way.
Henry got him and internship at a animation studio in South London for a year. From there, he went on to build his own studio for the arts; an award winning startup called ‘Lucky-Stars’ which became one of the most successful start-up companies in London.
He also met and fell in love with Fiona, now his wife and phenomenal mother to their 8 month old bundle of Joy named Henry. Kevin smiled as he laid there with his baby boy on his chest in the open hot air of the evening swaying back and forth, thankful for him having a proper relationship with his parents again and for Henry, the man with the grey beard and a challenge that changed his life forever.