At the entrance to Mercadona stands a man on one leg. He begs. In fact, there are two such one-legged men, maybe taking turns. Both are very unobtrusive, not in-your-face. Just the fact that they are balancing on one leg and one crutch is enough to take notice.
They are different to the loud, whining, coming-at-you Romanian women, some with a baby at their breast, begging. There is a cunning one at Lidl in Bollullos. She will get you when you come out with your trolley full of goods and walk up right to your car. She wants to take the trolley back, hoping to get the euro or fifty cent out of it. Tough luck when it is a token. Once she accosted me when I entered the supermarket, asking for food. I of course pretended not to understand, but she is cleverer than that. She somehow knew I am a softy. So she followed me in and again asked for some piece of food, explaining bread would do and somebody else might get her something else. So I relented and told her to get one item. She went off and got a packet of sliced pork to the value of two euro, fair enough.
Other Gypsy-women at the Alhambra in Granada will stop you in your tracks with a bunch of Rosmary in their hand and tell you the future, it’s near impossible to stop them. But you must walk on or else there’ll be a price to pay at the end of their wonderful story of your future life, complete with ‘a stranger will call you’, ‘a new love will enter your life’, ‘you will meet a man…blablabla.’
Near the Mezquita in Cordoba a woman nursed a baby at her breast and whined on in Romanian to get our attention.
Back to Almonte. So these two men are obviously unable to get work with their disability. And I don’t mind giving them a coin when I happen to pass by, which happens very seldom, as I usually take the car to the car park at the back. One day I parked nearby, because I only needed a few items and took the front entrance. The younger of the two was there and held out a very, very small bowl, more like an egg cup. I walked on but then stopped, put down my heavy bag and rummaged around to get a coin out, went back and gave it to him. He is very handsome, with dark, liquid soulful eyes and the loveliest smile. He thanked me profusely in what I think is Moroccan. The gentleness of his voice and his cared-for appearance would have me rather think of a prince. A prince without wants and hardship, so is his smile.
He is not always there, but today I drove past the entrance and our eyes met in my rear-view mirror. I am not sure if he recognised me, since I wore glasses and was in the car. But there is something very compelling about this human being. Surely there must be great hardship behind the fact that he lost one of his legs, and yet he smiles.
Maybe at was a land-mine, maybe a work accident, maybe a motorcycle crash, that took the power of his leg and his bright future away, who knows. Maybe there never was a bright future to begin with.
I would love to invite him for a cup of coffee and let him tell me his story.
I don’t know if I ever will. I am not usually in the habit of talking to strangers.