There's this guy who begs around the CBD - you probably know him. He stands there with his head down, as thought bowed in reverence, or shame, holding out a cup or a hat for people to throw their coins. He never makes eye contact and he never says anything. I've said hello to him a few times and even engaged in some awkward conversation. I knew his name at one point, but I've forgotten it now. The other day he was standing outside Myers in the same forlorn position and so I went and said hi. I said that it was getting cold and he agreed that it was. I asked him whether he was cold standing there and he said he was, a bit. I told him that I thought his coat looked warm and he said it was ok. He's always so damn polite. Then I said that I had to go, and I clip-clopped off.
The next day I saw him again. I was about to walk past but I thought I'd stop for a quick hello. He looked up at me and said, "Why don't you just go off and have a good time?" His voice was shaking a bit. "I'm not your responsibility, you know."
I told him I hadn't meant to offend him and I quickly walked away, upset and embarrassed. I'd been trying to be a good, caring citizen and it had completely backfired. What had gone wrong?
I never exactly enjoy chatting with the guy. He's not the greatest conversationalist, after all. I do it because...well, I want him to know that I see him. That he's not invisible. I'm trying to treat him like a person.
And also, it probably goes some way to reinforcing my identity of being a person who cares about the downtrodden. Those conversations were always awkward, and he was as aware of that as I. I reckon I've been a bit patronising with him too - always emphasising the positive in everything and urging him to agree, like he's some 5 year old ("But your coat must be warm! At least you'll get something to eat tonight! Oh, surely the concrete isn't THAT hard????!"). All wide eyes and smiles. Yeah well, you know, maybe his life just plain sucks, and maybe he's ok with that. Maybe he doesn't need me trying to make myself feel better about his shit situation.
I thought about writing him a letter, telling him I'm sorry for bothering him and being patronising and all that. Maybe I can explain that I want him to know that I notice his existence, or something. I could put it in his hat. Is that a bad idea?