This incident happened last December and got me thinking about how being a writer makes me view the world…
This piece was first posted on Ello last December.
At first, he looked like any beggar at the traffic lights—possibly the same one who’d been standing in that spot for a long time now, so long that he’d become part of the scenery: dirty blonde scraggly hair, grizzly grey beard. But he was not.
I’d never met his eyes. Any beggar at the traffic lights, no matter how desperate their looks, isn’t anyone you roll down the window for — not in South Africa, anyway.
But yesterday something unusual happened. ‘Tis the season and all that. My dad handed mum some change, my mum rolled down the window, and handed the change to the guy. No words spoken in the car. Perhaps the guy mumbled something, I’m not sure.
I should have been more compassionate, I suppose.
I should have been happy for my parents compassion, and wished the guy would benefit from some seasonal miracle that restores him to society.
I did actually. It was all I could personally do for him.
But the ever present observer in me, taking copious shorthand notes for the writer in me, discerned some strange irregularities, and all finer feelings dissipated into a cloud of speculation as the writer part of me took over, as it so often does these days.
This is what the observer in me noticed:
The guy had the face of an Angel, as depicted in Western chapels, Doreen Virtue cards and too many advertisements to mention.
The guy’s face was covered with a thin sheen, possibly from washing with muddy water, or perhaps, wiping his face with old grey tea…but not grimy, not looking like he’d slept on damp ground (it’s been quite rainy recently); and now that I come to think of it, the usual sleeping bag as nowhere to be seen.
The guy’s hair was clean. Was there hairstyling product in his locks? It was shoulder length, thick and healthy-looking, much like you’d expect a model’s or an angel’s to look. Not at all like someone who’s been sleeping in the rough — a look I’m familiar with coming from a family heavy with sometimes over-ripe geologists returning from the field in a water-scarce countryside.
His face was clean-shaven. I know guys grow facial hair at different rates; some growing beards like they’d drunk Getafix’s potion for the Romans, while others take a mite longer (something they always complain about). Perhaps he had a razor, a packet of Gillettes handed to him by a kindly passerby?
His expression was wretched when he accepted the change, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes.
He was tall. He couldn’t have been more than thirty (but I’m really bad at guessing anyone’s age) and he looked strong and healthy.
Of course the writer in me was speculating widely:
So this isn’t the usual guy.
Why was this guy begging at the traffic lights, when clearly he looked employable, especially in a mall or a photographic studio where he could be saying, “Buy this amazing product.”?
What had brought him here? What was it costing him personally (in pride and other emotions) to be accepting the little that people could spare?
Was he on an undercover assignment: a policeman or a journalist? The cynic in me was thinking journalist. Or perhaps a criminal scoping out the bank which stood nearby…
Was he someone who’d been rescued from the streets, and had recently returned to them? Why would he chose such an option? What would be his story? Was it something in his personality or history which kept sabotaging him?
Or was he really a disgraced angel, forced to discover the true nature of people during these trying times?
I doubt I would have passed his test.
The writer in me had taken my compassion had turned it into fascination, and a desire to know his story. And if I couldn’t know this angel’s story, I’d make one up, wouldn’t I? This fallen angel has disturbed me in more ways than one.