At my station, without fail every Thursday, stands a Shortlist vendor. This same vendor is present on Wednesdays handing out copies of Stylist. On Wednesdays my hand is stretched out, ready to collect my freebie, well before I’m within reach. On Thursdays, I spend the steps leading up to his pitch fishing out my Oyster card from my handbag. He smiles at me, magazine dangling from the tips of his fingers and I smile back and politely decline the offer.
That was before he discerned my weakness.
One Thursday as I approached his pitch, I began my routine as normal. He began his but this time, added a little something extra. Accompanying the smile on his lips was a look of desperation in his eyes. It was hard to ignore. He looked like his life depended on my taking the magazine from his hand. I felt really sorry for him but heck, I wasn’t interested in carting around a magazine I had no desire to read. I smiled and declined as usual and almost got away with it. Almost. The subtle nodding of his slightly tilted head broke me.
I was transported to Lagos, sitting in an air-conditioned car, people watching through the erect window. Obscuring my view, bowl in hand, stood a malnourished child. Head tilted, nodding a silent plea. Eyes haunted by hunger and poverty dared me to join forces with life and compound his suffering.
Before I realised what was happening, I had stretched out my hands and collected the magazine. A few steps on, I realised why the magazine felt heavier than it looked. He had shoved three copies in my hand! I laughed at the cheek of it but felt taken advantage of. Yet every Thursday since, at the sight of his pitiful face, I stretch out my hands and collect my three copies of Shortlist.
He has me down for a mug, I know it, but I’m powerless to stop it.
This morning, I was surprised to see a different face handing out magazines at his pitch. Surprised but relieved! This new face looked bored, like it would much rather still be resting on a soft pillow. I stared at its eyes and they stared back, blank. It gave me great pleasure to shake my head, walk past and ignore its offering.
This morning, for the first time, I understood the power of begging.
Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev