Bus Fare

Bus Fare

(published in Café Diverso)

“Miss, miss…” I saw the shouting man try to engage a woman in some kind of conversation. I saw too as the woman looked at him through unforgiving eyes and marched on, her raincoat flapping in symbolic disgust at her ankles. The man seemed not to care. He shrugged and casually swivelled on the spot until his fickle attention was trained on me.

“Miss…” This town is full of beggars and I might have kept walking too had I not wished to distance myself from the woman who ignored him. So I stopped and looked at him. He was neither young nor old, yet his face was smeared like that of a child and lined like that of an elderly man. His trousers, stained and grimy, had ridden down below his hips and his jacket hung loosely around his saggy frame.

I opened my mouth to speak, but he was better prepared than I. “Please miss, I need to get home. I just used all my money on a bus fare, but it was the wrong bus. I have to get home.”

“How much is your fare?”

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat, if you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do, if you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you.

If I have a penny in my pocket, I’m happy to give it away.

“I need £3.26,” he slurred decisively.

A penny is one thing, a pound another. But 326 pennies is something else entirely. Top league begging.  I tried to strike a deal. “How about I give you a pound and you ask someone else for another contribution?”

But even as I spoke the words, I knew they were wasted. As did he. And to prove it, he began to cry. There we stood, this man and I. He clutching his trousers lest they leave him altogether, and I looking for a way to reason with him.

“That’s quite a bit you’re asking for,” I ventured.

“I need to get home. Please, please. My bus fare is £3.26.”

I didn’t even know if I had that much money on me. I reached into my jeans pocket and removed out all the change that was in there. It was exactly £3.26. I gave it to him.

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