Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Less tassel-talk in this post.

Yesterday lunchtime I walked to the Tesco store to buy my lunch supplies for the week. The nearest one is just near Liverpool Street station, about five minutes walk from my office.

Liverpool Street and the surrounding area is an area dominated by businesses, so at lunchtime it is heaving with people hurrying to supermarkets and sandwich shops, keen to grab a sandwich or salad and rush back to their desk and get crumbs on their keyboards.

I was walking along in the obligatory blinkered London manner, listening to Jill Scott live on my iPod and pulling my jacket down over the top of my jeans as the icy wind whistled through the thin leather.

Just outside Tesco a bundle crept into my line of vision. A girl, perhaps fifteen years old, sixteen at the very most, sat motionless on the pavement. Her blue eyes stared out at nothing, not seeming to see the legs of the endless people streaming into the shop and then back out again. Her blanket was pulled up to just below her eyes, her forehead was smeared with dirt and her hair was tangled.

I continued into the shop and picked out my food, trying to be minimal cost-wise. I stood in the queue, paid for my items. All the while thinking about this girl.

On the way out I looked at her again, and then made my way to the nearest Benjy's, where I bought a sandwich, a KitKat and a large tea. I walked back over to her and put the things beside her. For some reason my heart was thumping and I stumbled on my words as I said "I just bought you some things. Tea, and a sandwich and a KitKat.". She pushed herself up on her hands as she took the sandwich and smiled, her eyes fixed somewhere just right of my right shoulder. "Thanks..." she muttered, as I stood up and walked quickly away.

AS I walked back to work I listened to my iPod and cried a bit, thinking about how very, stupidly lucky I am. To have a family who love me and whom I love, to have such wonderful friends and the capacity to earn enough money to feed myself and to not have to rely on strangers to provide me with cheese and pickle sandwiches in order to get through a day.

Today I walked to Tesco again. I looked for her, and there she was. Huddled under the same blanket, with the same smears of mud across her face. I went straight into Benjy's and bought another sandwich, KitKat and cup of tea, and put them down next to her on my way into Tesco. She smiled again, not recognising me I don't think, but recognising my formula of gifts. The smile was somehow, different, I thought, today. I walked into the shop, queued and bought, and then walked out. There was a part of me, a large part, that wanted to see the girl happily chewing on her sandwich, or with her cold hands wrapped around the cardboard cup of tea.

She was empty-handed, sitting up and grinning at a man, a shabby man, granted, but a man with a coat and shoes and a packet of cigarettes in his hand. Also a cup of tea and a sandwich.

I went back to the girl and asked her "did that man just nick your stuff?". She laughed, not looking at me. "Nah, that's my boyfriend. I gave it him." I laughed as well, as if to convey that, oh, of course, that was your boyfriend, sorry. She looked around quickly, and languidly settled herself back into her blanket, a smile playing around her lips.

I walked away, and I HATE so much to admit to this, but I felt cheated. Somehow I had given this girl some food because she seemed so alone. I was buying into fuzzy image of homeless girls, forced to leave home because of circumstances beyond their control. I wanted to have made that a bit better, and tell her by means of a small, pathetic meal that I hadn't ignored her, I hadn't walked past like everyone else. That I had noticed her, acknowledged her existence.

Of course this was a ridiculous assumption. How could I possibly know what her circumstances were? There is no doubt that, whatever her situation she would not choose to sit on the street all day looking, and probably genuinely feeling forlorn. Seeing the man walking away from her somehow shattered this illusion that I had fabricated to make myself feel better, that was all. Somehow I felt wronged, as a consumer, as if I had been misled by the advertising. How very, very horrible.

So now I feel unavoidably cheated (I can't help it, somehow) and hugely guilty for my middle-class assumptions and naivety.

What is worse is that on the way back I actually thought to myself "I'll blog about this".

Oh God.


Anonymous tony said...

On my way to Camden Palace, a few years back I saw a woman covered in a blanket with teeth missing and looking absolutely pitiful. I stopped, gave her some money and wished her all the best.

Walking back after the club I saw the same woman dressed in a fleece and jeans, with a gold tooth where the hole had been, walk by me and get into a Vauxhall Nova. I have never felt more betrayed in my life.

4:10 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a homelessy man at the end of my street in the median most days.. I always want to bring him something, but never have. And I feel so guilty because I'll even think before I leave a restaurant, "Oh, I should order a sandwich to go for Him." Argh, but I never do. I don't even pass him on the correct side of the road to reach out and hand him a couple dollars. And I feel so guilty, but apparently not enough so to actually take the next step. Good for you, even if it hurt you where it counts a bit in the end.

6:15 pm

Anonymous Euan said...

As I was going into a McDonalds once this homeless girl asked me if I could get her some chips. So after I went in and had my Extra Value Meal I bought another one and gave it to her outside. So I felt jolly proud of myself, you know, for buying extra. I even got her a nutritious coke - because everyone likes coke.

So anyway, I gave it to her and said "I got you some chips but I also got you a burger and a coke as well" and what really completely pisses me off is that she didn't say thank you. I know it's really petty but I'd never buy food for a homeless person again because of that. I suppose I should start donating to Shelter though...

8:47 pm

Blogger RadiantSky said...

Regardless of the outcome, you did a good deed that shows that you have a good heart. And who knows, maybe your kindness will stay with that girl and inspire her to make changes in her life. Either way, you went out of your way for someone else and you should be proud of yourself.

11:09 pm

Anonymous number1hypocrite said...

Charity, no matter how public it is, can always seem unrewarding. Or in your case, you can feel worse after helping someone. You are a greater person than most, to help a stranger with the basics of life.

And to make you feel better, I think about blogging various events. They just never make it past the censors.

3:25 am

Blogger Me Over Here said...

I understand your feeling of being unappreciated, but then you think, you felt something strong leading you to help this girl. Maybe she WAS hungry and wanted the meal, but maybe she loved her boyfriend so much that she wanted HIM to be fed. I don't know the circumstances, but I at least know that you did something wonderful for someone less fortunate (you'd assume). We should all be so giving!

2:22 pm


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