A recent post by Pearl about beggars opened a door in my memory.
A few years ago, I was sitting in one of Adelaide's arcades waiting for my daughter K.
An old woman walked over and sat beside me, we shared a minute or so of conversation, during which time the rest of her family joined us.
A woman my age, a younger woman and a couple of grubby children with runny noses.
She then asked me if I had $10 to spare. I said no and she repeated her question with a lower amount, to which I still said no.
One of the younger women then asked me why I didn't have any money.
I got a tighter grip on my bag and (foolishly, I know) said I do have money, but I'm waiting for my daughter and then we're going grocery shopping.
Get this!! She (the younger one) then said, "oh, we'll come with you and when you get some change we can have $10? "
The cheek! The utter cheek!!
I looked around for a security guard, because sometimes there is one, but not today.
So I told them if they didn't leave me alone I was going to call the police and got out my phone in preparation. They all got up and left.
A much earlier memory of another beggar comes to mind.
Back in 1996-7, (can't remember exactly), I would often work overtime in the shoe factory, then catch a bus into the city, and wait in the dark, on the steps of a bank, for another bus out to my suburb.
One night I was sitting listening to my walkman (cassette player), when a man about my age sat down beside me and asked if I had a couple of dollars to spare. I said no, I don't carry cash.
Keep in mind it was dark, it was almost winter, I was alone on the steps when he sat down.
Yet in no way at all did I feel afraid or threatened.
He started a conversation which I went along with, realising along the way that he was quite drunk, but not belligerent as is the case with many drunks.
He was smoking like a chimney and after a while I asked him if he would mind switching his cigarette to his other hand as he was in danger of setting my jacket alight. He laughed and did so.
He asked where I was going so late at night, (my bus wasn't due until about 9.30 and it was only 8.30ish), I told him I'd been working late and was on my way home to dinner. He told me his name, R...., and then wistfully said he wished he was on his way home to dinner.
I remember I asked him what he was doing this late at night. He said "I'm runnin' amok."
Made me laugh that did.
"Where's your home?" I asked him. "Victoria, I'm not allowed to go there though, my missus has kicked me out. I miss my boys. I went to see them last week and could only stay in the yard with them, couldn't go in the house. So I come back here and got drunk. I'm still drunk."
He asked my name and I gave him a false name, he asked where I lived and I said just out of town a bit. That satisfied him, I believe he was just making conversation.
We chatted until my bus came, then said goodbye. In the months that followed I sat on those same steps in the dark, waiting for my bus, but never saw him again and never had conversations with anyone else either. Sometimes others would be waiting for buses on the same steps, but everyone always kept to themselves.
Now and again R crosses my mind and I wonder what happened to him. Did he ever get back to see his boys again? Did he meet someone new and start a better life? I'll never know.