The Beggar

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He was, he liked to think, a good person. Not an exceptional human being, by any means, but nonetheless an undeniably agreeable individual, a good person with a basic, though religiously observed rule: give them nothing unless you make eye contact. Otherwise ignore them. It had been like that as early he could remember. It wasn't that he was arrogant- that he saw himself as superior both fincancially and socially, nor was he at fault for inconsideration. Although he had a right to feel all these things, to retort 'Why should I?' to the glum face staring after him as he walks away having dropped his small change into the old and tattered hat, as if he owes something more.  He had a right to feel above them. He was above them. And he had earned his status as such. Ultimately, if he had indeed attributed his philosophy to these factors, he was guilty of nothing more than simply making money. 

         

And yet this was not the case. On the contrary, his rationale had been, in his opinion, conceived with only the best of interests at heart. He had no disdain for these people, rather he felt that his money was being wasted on them- or at least most of them. He could not find, despite his countless efforts, a logical justification to trust them to make use of it. No, he had decided, there was, in actual fact, no reason for him to believe that his extra change would, in their hands, predispose an abundance of food instead of alcohol, warm clothes instead of drugs. And, what was more, there were better charity cases that required investment.

 

The buskers were different.They did not gaze at you pleadingly with sad eyes, the life in which had long since been extinguished; they did not look on longingly at the many tourists swarming across the streets- happily indifferent and armed with a thousand varied shopping bags. They were proud. They played their instruments (sometimes more than one at a time), and showcased the wealth of talent that they posessed, reminding to the outside world that they had succeeded precisely where the tall men in tailor-made suits had failed- that they had set off defiantly in pursuit of an unlikely but plausible dream, in adamant rejection of the more conventional, and somewhat easier office route. And even if some of the buskers had had no choice but to rely on their musical skills, they still stood as a testament to the bankers, lawyers and accountants, high in the skyscrapers above them, who had forgotten long ago what they were capable of outside of their job description. They exuded integrity, gratefulness- they played Hava Nagilah in appreciation of the donation of some passing orthodox Jews. It was surely a more worthwile cause.

 

It began with meaningless amounts; five, ten, twenty, fifty. And then it soon reached and surpassed rapidly the Pound mark. Soon, he was giving all the coins that he had received as change having purchased his lunch earlier. In a month, he had stopped buying a drink with his food- opting for tap water instead- in order to asist the fortunate musician performing outside. Two months, and his meal had been disposessed of its salad. By the third month, the salad had made a return in place of his meal- and he dropped whatever money he had on him into the guitar case, flat cap or plastic bucket that had now been placed eagerly facing his direction. And when he lost his job at the factory, he would still come; clutching the cash which he had just drawn out of a fast-diminishing bank account. This never bothered him. These people needed it more than he did.

         

 

*                 *                 *

 

 

Sometimes, they give him a Pound, sometimes a penny. Most of the pedestrians ignore him totally. Only when he attracts their attention, and forces them to make eye-contact, do they acknowledge his existence, before reaching reluctantly into their pockets and dropping some measly change into the old and tattered hat that he has placed in front of him. Before moving on they often look down on him pitifully and yet expectantly, like they're waiting for some kind of grateful reaction. But his haggard face draws a blank. And then, just as they are about to turn away, his lips crack- not into a smile, but a scowl. 'Is that it?' he snarls, and then spits a wad of saliva at their feet.

         

Looking on at the disgruntled passer-by departing hurriedly from the scene, he wonders why they give him so little. Perhaps it is because they are arrogant, feeling a sense of superiority over him. Or just inconsiderate, determinedly avoiding a feeling of empathy for his position. Perhaps it is because they are saving their money for the greater good, for those people who are more likely to spend it wisely. In the distance, he can hear the soft, soothing sound of a busker with a guitar. Or perhaps- it occurs to him in a sudden, harsh, unyielding epiphany- it is because, like him, they are good people. Good people with a rule formulated with the greatest of intentions in mind. Or, he glances grimly at the near-empty hat, so they like to thnk.

The End

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