Change

“Change. Spare some change. Some change, some change, please. Please, spare some change. Just 50p, please.”

Her plea travelled from some distance behind me to where I stood at the ATM. I tried to concentrate on the numbers on the screen. ‘How much do I need today? A tenner? No, twenty. No, too much. A tenner.’

“Some change, please. Spare some change…”

I need to buy some fruit and a bus pass. Yes, twenty. Take twenty out.’

“Can I have 50p please,” I heard her call out.

“No!” Was the gruff reply. I turned to see the lady slowly drop her outstretched hand, still pointing in the direction of her rejecter.

I pulled my card out from the ATM slot and retrieved the money, shoving it into my worn leather purse. The lady stood a few yards behind me, one arm wrapped around the lamppost she was leaning against, the other arm limp by her side. Her eyes were downcast, her lips a droop, and her clothes hung off her rake limbs a few sizes too big. I looked directly at her, and her eyes shifted away from the ground towards me, as though my gaze had commanded her to. Her lips twitched briefly before she called out her tired request.

“Can you give me 50p, please?” Her voice had a scratchy undertone, laced with dejection. Another statistic of a beggar no longer considered a part of the human race.

“What would you like it for?” I said, taking a few steps towards where she stood. Her head jerked away from the lamppost, a rigidity of life entered her stance.

“A pie. I just want a pie.” I heard a slight quiver.

“You only want a pie?” She nodded. “You haven’t had breakfast this morning have you?” She shook her head vigorously as though it was the lifeline between her stomach and a meal. Stupid question. “I can buy you a pie,” I said, offering her a smile, and her mouth parted into a wide grin, revealing sublimely pearly white teeth.

We walked side by side down the road, this lady and I – no words were exchanged. She was hungry – may not have eaten for days – and I’d just withdrawn money from a reserve of cash I know can buy me much more than a pie.

In the bakery I asked which pie she’d like; she shook where she stood, astonished she had a choice. I ordered the pie, handed it to her and waited for my change. When I turned the lady was slowly walking out of the shop, half the pie hungrily making its way down to the pit of her empty stomach. She’d come alive against the backdrop of London’s bustling scenery – no longer just a statistic of a shadow roaming hungry in a lonely city.

© LaYinka Sanni, June 2013.

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