Tony walked along the busy high street. The lunchtime foot traffic was higher than normal thanks to the unseasonably warm weather. Men from the nearby offices filed by, their ties loose in their collars with sleeves rolled up. Women in summer tops and designer sunglasses strolled casually in the sunshine.
Tony noticed the man from some distance away. Sitting with his back against a shop window, his ragged clothes formed a harsh juxtaposition with the shiny facade of the building. Tony wondered why security had not yet moved the man on. The blanket over the man’s lap seemed excessive given the unusual heat of the autumn day. People streamed past the man. Everyone appeared to need to be somewhere (anywhere) “more important”. In the last 30 minutes of the lunch hour, hundreds of pairs of eyes must have looked straight ahead, fixed on some point in the distance or focussed on the back of the person in front’s head.
Tony drew nearer. He was now close enough to see that the man had a beard. It looked matted and dirty, as did his clothes. Tony felt a wave of revulsion. The man’s presence made him uncomfortable. As Tony walked he steeled himself for the question: “can you spare any change please?”. It never came.
Tony was in turmoil. This man’s very existence offended him, yet at the same time his sense of humanity was gnawing at his consciousness. No one should live like this should they?
Tony was now level with the man. He glanced down. The man’s head hung low, his eyes dull and lifeless, staring into his lap. “What must it be to live like this?” thought Tony. He stopped.
City workers and shoppers filed around Tony and the man, some of them tutting at having to take an extra sideways step to be on their way.
Tony reached into of his pocket and took out a twenty pound note. He crouched down in front of the man. The man looked up and their eyes met, locked and held. Tony held out the folded note and the man reached up slowly and took it. The man nodded.
“So what’s your story, old man? What are you doing here?” asked Tony.
“Come and sit beside me” said the man “and I’ll tell you about it. Thank you for your kindness.”
Tony sat. The man talked, perhaps for the first time in weeks. People continued to walk past…
Daily Prompt, 23rd September 2016