I have a confession to make. And this one is a terrible one. This one might consign me to the flames. Are you ready? Have you girded your loins? Here it is: I sometimes avoid the Big Issue seller. There, I’ve said it.
I know, I know – he’s not begging and he’s not extorting money and he’s not doing anything illegal; not in the slightest. He’s following a legitimate path to making his money. But still – I feel an unreasonable panic whenever I see him.
He doesn’t just stand there like the rest of them. He has his ear buds in and he dances to the music he hears through them. But it’s not that he’s trying to cut himself off. No. He’s always ready to pull an ear bud out and chat to whoever approaches him.
“Hello, hello,” he’ll say as he sticks out his hand to shake, as if we’re the best of friends.
And I suppose, to some extent, we are.
I’ve listened to the sounds coming from his ear buds and we’ve discussed the merits of Rumanian music (it’s got a good beat) compared to English music (rubbish).
I’ve stood chatting to him for extended periods. He doesn’t speak much English, but he likes to use the little he knows and he does it to good effect. He understands almost nothing that I say to him.
This morning, I tried a little Rumanian on him. Just before I got to where he stands, er, sorry – dances, I pulled out my phone and asked it to tell me the Rumanian for ‘good morning’.
“Buna dimineata,” it said.
“Buna diminetta,” I said to him.
“Buna?” he said.
“Buna dimineata. Runmanian!” he said when he’d caught on. He catches on fast.
Then he ‘taught’ me another five phrases. Simple ones that would be useful in any conversation. None of which I can remember now. Maybe I’ll look them up later and learn them, because I remember the English: ‘how are you?’, ‘what is your name?’ and … okay, maybe I only remember two of them in English.
I even bought a Big Issue from him once. I usually decline after waving my book at him. I always carry a book. I prefer books. But this one time, I was feeling flush. I had the £2.50 in my pocket and was feeling magnanimous.
I didn’t like it much. I read it from cover to cover, and although it was well written and attractively laid out, I didn’t find much there that interested me. Perhaps I should have chosen a better week when the lead article was something that I’m into. Perhaps I’ll do that in the future. Let’s see.
He tries to shake my hand, like, all the time! And in response, I present him with a fist, and he bounces it; sometimes several times during the conversations we have.
I don’t know why I won’t shake his hand. I suppose (ah, look at the depths to which I sink here) it’s because I don’t know where it’s been. I mean, if he does this to everyone (and I’ve watched him – he does) then there’s no telling how many germs may be lurking on his palm ready to infect me with all manner of disease. Yeah, I know, I feel ashamed of myself even as I say it.
He told me his name this morning. I think he said Zahid, but I could have misremembered. I’ll ask him again the next time I pass. I’ll pretend I’m practicing my Rumanian on him. He’ll tell me his name again and maybe I’ll tell him mine again. It’ll all work out.
So can you see now why I sometimes avoid the Big Issue Seller? Can you see why I’m uneasy when I see him shouting out his friendly greetings to passers by? Can you understand?
No, neither can I.