As a general open rule, I suppose, it is right to be charitable to those who choose to beg. Typically, it's how the public sees it. No matter how sneaky, or poor, or annoying or sorry they seem, the way you behave with them kind of determines your supposed nature towards humankind. No one ever talks about the guy who handed ten bucks to a roadside con, they all talk about the guy who shoo-ed him away. As was my plight on an eventful Saturday morning trying to find a copy of a Wodehouse omnibus on MG Road.
I had no more than fifty bucks in my wallet. It was one of those days when I was comfort shopping i.e. swiping my card so that I would feel less guilty about destroying my bank balance. I walked down to Mamma Mia on Church Street, bought myself an ice-cream and strolled out. Then, out of nowhere, a gypsy pounced on me (quite literally) and took away the ice-cream. Now, it's not like I wouldn't have given it if she just, you know, asked me for it. But I was surprised to see that everyone around me were looking at me. For a moment, I thought this was because they were as stunned as I was. But no, turns out everyone was hoping that I don't tell her off.
Anyway, as if that didn't annoy me enough, I had to walk an extraordinarily long way to the ATM with absolutely no money in my wallet. As expected, I was destined for worse. There was an old man sitting by corner of the road. All the people before me seemed to drop a coin or two as they walked past, so dutifully I took out my wallet hoping to find out a coin when I got near him. Just that, I stood in front of him for an entire minute searching inside my wallet stuffed with bills and couldn't find anything. I don't know what you'd possibly do, but it was that awkward moment where I had to tell him that I hadn't any money on me.
You see, here's the odd thing about a situation like this. I felt guilty for no fault of mine. I I mean, of course I’m aware of the misfortunes that befall humankind, and have since given thought to doing much towards the greater common good – but this whole universal test isn’t fair.
‘I don’t have any money,’ I told him, apologetically, ‘I thought I had change. I don’t’. It was the truth, and I hoped he would believe me.
I think it was ten seconds of expressionless staring before he stood up, dusted his rags, collected the change in his bowl, walked to the nearby stall and bought himself a cigarette.
I tell you, the next time someone gives me a sermon about the potential karmic returns of charity, I'm going to tell them to sell their soul for a bar of chocolate. Really, it's a shorter ticket to heaven.