A beggar has called on me fairly regularly since last year.  He first came to my house up the road just before I moved to my present address, and has visited me here many times since.  At one stage he was turning up every week.  His story was that he had a sick new born baby, and his wife was unable to provide milk.  He had lost his job, could not find more work, and desperately needed money to obtain formula for the baby.   His demeanour was abject, and he spoke so quietly that I had to strain to catch what he said.  At first I thought he may have found a very good line to spin, but later I came to believe him.  His story developed over time, as stories do.  He told me that he had been evicted from his home and was now staying with friends or relatives, and still could not find work.  later, his wife became ill, and still could not feed the child.  I usually gave him something, but on some occasions I turned him away.  I often felt annoyed at him, both for the frequency of his calls and for his pathetic manner as he begged.  I was sometimes brusque when I gave him a few dollars, and sometimes more so when I turned him away, telling him I had nothing to spare.  Sometimes I genuinely did have no money to spare.  But I have always had plenty of food in the house.  I never offered him any. 

I never really put myself into his shoes.  I suppose I did not actually believe that someone could be in such a plight here that he had no one to turn to, and must beg from strangers. 

This evening he turned up again.  My doorbell rang and when I opened the door he was standing outside the security cage looking more abject than I have ever seen him.  Something prevented me telling him to go away, and shutting the door in his face.  Something was wrong.  I waited for him to speak.  After a moment he seemed to gather himself up and quietly told me his baby had died, and his wife was in hospital.  Tears ran down his face.   

"I am so very sorry to hear that, how can I help?" For the first time I put myself in his position, and felt something of the pain he must be suffering.  For the first time I actually cared.  Too late.

He needed to take his child to Ba, for the funeral, and all he required was the bus fare.  
A bus. To transport his dead baby back to his family.  Twenty five dollars, that was all.  

Today was payday, Before I came home I had logged in to Westpac, paying on line my rent and all my bills, even paying extra on the internet and power bills to be sure I did not fall into arrears if I used more than usual, as I did last month.  I then transferred my fortnightly sum to NZ to cover the mortgage and everything at home, leaving myself around $250 for the coming fortnight.  I even complained to my colleague Chels, that the SDR had fallen again, and also that the Fiji dollar was worth 3 cents less than it was last payday.  On the way home I had obtained $50 from the ATM and bought some laundry powder, having spent my last cash at lunch time on a pie from Dorothy’s, and some fresh vegetables from a roadside stall.  I had been going to buy petrol for the bike on the way home, but decided to do it in the morning because the road to the gas station was clogged with traffic going to and from the 2010 Fiji Showcase that is currently on at the Vodafone Arena up the road.

I thought I had it hard; burdened with a mortgage and separated from my
family, unable to afford a weekend away from my comfortable and secure home in Suva
for a dive trip or a break in a motel. 

I suddenly realised I was a very wealthy, and very lucky, man indeed.  I cannot conceive how it must be to be in such a position, to have lost a child, to have an ailing wife, no home or employment, and to have absolutely nowhere to go, and no one but a stranger to turn to for twenty five dollars.  I felt like shit.  I emptied my wallet and gave him what I had. He held my hand and wept.  I held his and wept too – for him, for his lost infant, for his sick wife, and for me, who did not know just how well off I am.  And how inadequate I have been. 

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can think of worse than losing a child.


About Uisce úr

Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
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