Begging is an Art

November 8, 2007
By
Someone’s watching me.
I can feel eyes on my back, following my every shuffling move. Turning, I see a security guard looking at me. A small sigh of relief escapes me. They don’t really watch, they glance. I wouldn’t have any trouble from him. I approach my usual place, setting down my patched, dilapidated rucksack. This is where I’ve begged money for the last week. Three day ago I earned enough money to buy two meals, breakfast and supper. I’m not about to let another piece of trash steal my spot.
“Shove off,” I mutter to two triple pierced punks who are encroaching on my corner. The subway is bad place to plead for money – professionals are not known for their generosity. Instead they pass by, congratulating themselves on the fact that they were smart or successful enough to escape destitution.
The teenagers give me a baleful stare and snicker. “Honey,” the uglier one sneers, “I think you’re the one who needs to move. Me and Sam aren’t done yet, are we?”
His friend, complete with dyed green hair matted into greasy spikes, shakes his head. “Nope, we isn’t done. Why don’t you just move along?”
I give the two a cheery, threatening smile, while pulling out my sharp, five inch piece of metal. Their eyes widen at the weapon, giving each other bemused looks. Apparently they aren’t used to little seventeen-year-old girls pulling knives on them. Clearly, they haven’t been on the street long. “Now,” I say pleasantly, “Why don’t you two just move your skinny asses back to whatever poor, misunderstood, middle-class house you came from. I think we’d all be better off.”
The pair give me filthy looks as they vacate their patch of tiled floor. The guard looks away, oblivious. Grimacing slightly, I resume my post. The last meal I ate was scrounged from the Mickey D’s across the street – the one with the sympathetic manager who’ll give me occasional burgers if I hang around long enough, and don’t scare away any of the customers.
I pull out my flimsy cotton hat and pour a few coins in it. Begging is an art. You have to be docile and pitiable, and have a bit of money, but not too much. I twist a few tendrils of hair loose, removing my snug fleece jacket. Another rule: no one will help a warmly dressed kid.
Shivering in the chilly underground air, I beg. A little boy tugs his mother by the hand. “Mummy,” he cries, “Why is that girl just sitting there? Doesn’t she have a mummy too?”
The mother shushes the child, and flips a two dollar coin in my hat. Payment for my humiliation, though by now I’m become accustomed to it. I hopefully eye an older, chubby man who strides along in a silk suit. “Spare change?” I ask. The man barely gives me a glance. I hope a pigeon s**** on his suit.
After two hours and a sore back, I gather up my change and stuff a few rare bills in my pocket. I have enough to eat, finally. With one sleeping leg I hobble out of the subway station and into the dusky night.
Inhaling the fresh air, I allow myself a few dreamy thoughts. I’ll get a job, have a proper room, get my diploma… A more luxurious dream is that I become a wealthy heiress, and never have to work again. Instead of stealing lip glosses from the drugstore, I’d go to and buy as many cosmetics as I could carry.
The sound of breaking glass pulls me out of my daydreams. Maybe tomorrow I’ll become a princess, but today I’m just another pauper in rags.





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