Twenty Pounds

I was on a train the other day when I saw a woman who was asking for money. She was doing that thing that is now very common which is that you stand at one end of the train and ask very loudly for the attention of the entire train. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry to have disturbed you this evening, but I need just 12 pounds to be able to get in a hostel this evening and so that I don’t have to sleep rough again tonight”.

It is strange that this speech is now standard across a wide variety of people asking for money. I wonder how that happens? Although I suppose it might simply be that when people have managed to get themselves into shelter for the evening that they then exchange war stories of how they scraped up enough money for the evening.

On this particular occasion a woman who was sitting next to where I was standing gave her twenty pounds. It seemed an incredible amount of money to give. And I wondered both about why she gave so much, what was going on in her life so that she would give that much and also what twenty pounds would mean to the woman asking for money.

I was pleased to see that the woman who had received the money did get off of the train at the very next stop and didn’t ask anyone else for any money. She didn’t want to be greedy I guess. Also though as I was getting off of the train at the same point I was able to see that she wasn’t a professional beggar as so many Daily Mail readers would believe. As she was walking along the platform, twenty pounds in her pocket, she picked up a fag butt off of the floor. It had clearly been smoked up to the bitter end but she clearly thought there might be something there so she put it in her pocket (after testing it in her mouth).

But what was it that made the woman give the twenty pounds. Had she never heard anyone tell this particular story? Was it that she felt solidarity for the beggar as a woman? Or was it simply that she decided to give something and a twenty was the smallest thing that she had but felt that it would be rude to ask for change?

I will never know. I really did feel moved to strike up conversation with the benefactor but I decided against it. I felt that she’d be charitable enough without testing her patience as well. And I really didn’t want to discourage her which I felt I could have done when in fact I was simply curious.

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