Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Recognition By Helena Durham

On the days you walk down High Road you hear Big Issue, Big Issue! You play ‘guess the country of origin’ with these sellers, some regular, some occasional.

You have a good ear for the low thick BEEG EESHOO! of one of the women. She holds out the copy in her chubby hand, you notice the wedding ring tight on her finger, and pause. You look up, into her eyes. She into yours. Your mouth shapes to speak, but you don’t. You walk away.

Another day you pretend not to hear her calling PLEASE BEEG EESHOO, instead you examine the pavement like it’s of major concern, needs reporting to the council. You’d do that, wouldn’t you?

Sometimes you’re less hurried, more… well… You turn to the seller in his scruffy red tabard, his mismatched wooly hat and gloves, and shoes too flimsy for the frosty day. You whisper No thanks, and manage a close-lipped smile when he wishes you Have a good day. Even so, you don’t buy. Is it because he’s unshaven, even perhaps a little fragrant? Of course you might simply not like the magazine’s content, think Why spend the money?

But wait! What are you doing? Today you have stopped. You are standing in front of the dark eyed seller outside the butchers. She continues BEEG EESHOO, PLEASE BEEG EESHOO. You reach into your hessian bag and pull out…

… a flask, two plastic mugs and a cake tin, and set them out on the block paving. The seller looks down at you. You pour out tea and offer up the mug. She sets down her copies on her own bag and takes it. You hold out a jar of sugar and a spoon. She shakes her head. You remove the lid from the battered royal wedding tin. She takes a slice of your chocolate cake, a little smile flicks from her to you, but you miss it as you pour tea for yourself. She finishes her cake. You offer her another slice. Tank yoou, she says. This time you smile at her, at the deep-set lines of her face and into those eyes where you see… Oh that’s it — you see what you saw that day you first dared to look into them: Loss. Loss that you see in your own eyes in the mirror when you remember your husband and child as they drove down the road and never came back.

You pull a zip-up fleece from a carrier and hold it out to her. It was his. She points at herself signalling For me? If you’d like it, you say, And the gloves. She takes them and smiles again. She gives you back the mug and your hands touch.

You pack all but the cake away.

She takes up her magazines, and you hold out your tin to the passers by. The two of you fall into a rhythm, a song: BEEG EESHOO, FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE; BEEG EESHOO, FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE.

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