Recently I was approached by a young man in the street. I am not sure how old he was but he only had one tooth in his bottom jaw and his clothes and skin were grimy as if he slept somewhere near exhaust fumes. Yet his hair was short and he was relatively clean-shaven.
He said, ‘I know you think I’m a tramp … I am a tramp compared to you but thank you for not looking down on me. Thank you for not giving me that look.
I started to say, ‘I didn’t say you were …’
He repeated, ‘Thank you for not looking down on me.’
I was already beginning to feel that this scenario had the potential of becoming some kind of Leeds Groundhog Day so I said, ‘Okay so what do you want?’ My tone was not unfriendly but it did indicate that as he had stopped me I knew that it was because he wanted something so why didn’t we get on with it.
At this point I noticed that he had lovely eyes. It was city dark so it was difficult to see the colour, it was more of the shape and curve. And his cheeks were hollow. If he still had teeth and if was wearing clean clothes he would have been as noticeably attractive as Johnny Depp in the after shave poster that littered the city’s bus stops and hoardings on my walk back to the hotel.
He said, ‘Ten pence, a penny, whatever you think.’
As I took out my purse I said, ‘You won’t get far with ten pence.’
I pulled out a five-pound note. He stood there for a few seconds as I waved the note at him urging him to take the money then he burst into tears. Those lovely sad eyes filled to the brim and ran down his cheeks. He swung around to indicate the people sitting on the café terrace behind us, ‘They will think I’ve accosted you, made you give me the money. I didn’t, did I? I didn’t make you. Did I?’
‘No, you didn’t. I offered it to you of my own free will now please take it.’
He took the money but now he was sobbing. I lamely said, ‘Go and get yourself a drink or something’ and he began again saying that he was a tramp.
Now I had got rid of the money I wanted to leave. To simply walk away. Or walk away simply.
I find it problematic to step over people in the street who seem to live on a doorstep with a duvet and a dog for company. People that mutter can you spare some change in an inaudible voice because they know if they speak any louder they will still not be heard.