I met Maria sitting in the street not far from the church. She was begging for money. I didn’t have any change so I just greeted her smiling with my eyes peeking out between my mask and my beenie and walked on.
Then I stopped and thought. I had a note in my wallet, too much to give to a beggar. But it was all I had left. I returned and kneeled beside her, asked her where she was from because obviously she wasn’t a local. She told me she was from Bulgaria. I told her my name was Anna and she said hers was Maria. The two names resonated somehow, we both felt it. She told me she had five children and collected empty gaz bottles to resell. Or maybe she wanted gaz bottles for her heating. Her French was too bad for me to properly understand what she really meant.
I explained that I didn’t have any empty gaz bottles and walked away a second time. But I stopped once more, turned around, kneeled down again and put the bank note in her hand. She didn’t put it in the paper cup standing in front of her where people dropped their change. She hid it in her fist and I think she smiled.
I stood up and made a little bow to tell her goodbye. She folded her hands in front of her chest and nodded. Then she asked me if I was from town. When I said that I was from another country myself I saw that she understood and was pleased. We had something in common.
I can’t stop thinking about her. Sitting there all alone in the cold, in the rain, on the pavement. I might try to find her again and ask her what else she might need. Because even though some people think I’m a bad person, I’m not bad at all. I feel a lot of love for the people around me. I would have loved to draw something for her but I wanted to write about her and use her picture. I don’t think she would mind. She is not very recognizable, but you can see her smile and her pride and her clenched fist.
When I think of all the lives I could have saved with the money I’ve spent on useless crap it makes me go all cold inside
There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoesMilan Kundera, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’