I hurry between patches of scanty shade
And squint against the sun
That beads perspiration down my cheek
To my chin, where it quivers for an eternity
Before another drop runs down to join it
On the long jump to the scorching pavement stones.
I weave through parked motorcycles
Their metal scorching hot,
And ice cream vendors, without price lists
Who quote raised prices,
And beggars settled in the rare patches of shade
Waving stumpy limbs
And clinking metal begging bowls.
I almost don’t see her
And swerve to avoid her at the last second
Mumbling an apology to the old man
I almost tripped up.
An island in the bustling pavement,
She sits, straight-backed
In a patch of sun
And stares straight through me,
Her hands limp and listless in her lap
Her steel bowl lying forgotten, in front of her
Her lips cracked and parched
Her eyes far away
And her hair cropped short
Bizzarely reminding me of Princess Diana.
Streams of pedestrians part and converge around her
Barely registering the automatic annoyance and disgust
That the dirty bedraggled beggars cause.
But her hands don’t rise in cloying prayer
And her lips don’t mumble blessings
And her gaze does not rest hopefully on every passerby.
And her fingers don’t clink an empty bowl for coins.
She stares straight ahead
At the middle distance
Lost in her own head.
Perhaps, of the forces that brought her here
Or the unfairness of life or God
Or perhaps of her child, abandoned or dead
Or perhaps just of Hunger and Heat.
A foot kicks her bowl
And a voice above her head curses the unemployed blood-suckers
Who clog up the pavements built with tax-payers money.
The bowl spins to rest at the foot of a tree
But she does not move
Or even look.
A little boy
Picks it up and holds it out to her
But unnerved by her unseeing stare
And his mother’s hysterical
Calls to PUT THAT DOWN AND COME BACK
He leaves it by her knee.
And I hurry away,
Too ashamed to drop a pointless coin
Into that empty stainless-steel void.