The Beggar and the Beast

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Half-asleep like a fish out of water, tired as a dead horse, I was standing hands tucked in my coat pockets, subconsciously hoping for a miracle to appear – I was not waiting for Godot, but for the tram to come.
The previous night was a screamer. I had nothing better to do than ruining my already weakish eyesight in front of that radiating and godless mass of technological wonder – that tyrannical, energy-dependent maniac who at times goes by the demon-possessed name of MAC, IBM, SONY, DELL, TOSHIBA. In my case the devil was called – ACER – this monstrous inhumane brute, who doesn’t give a shit about my precious health and those grand dreams of mine. One day, I swear, I will kick the sugar out of its be-dazzlingly sweet display. As I scribbled my paper on the dialectical relationship between religion and medicine, in the back of my mind, I contemplated several ways of how to extinguish this ongoing silent electronic mockery, which takes place daily in front of my face and troubles so many of my fellow primates. Perhaps the only way to end it was to leave and to shut down the devil when he’s awake and alert. This was what i did, and it worked! Scribbling and scrabbling through all night, as the clock run out, I finally gave up and quickly went outside into the world of reality to submit my half-finished nonsense, still warm and full of Freudian slips.
And now, here I am, barely conscious of my surroundings and my physical self, standing in the cold after that screamer of a night, and waiting for that goddamn tram to appear and lead me to the promised land of lethargy. But then suddenly my lonely stare in the clouds was ungraciously interrupted by a strange middle aged man. I was approached by, I dare to assume, an unlucky beggar. A common sight, nowadays, as in the ages of the fellow hippies and indie artists – Socrates, Jesus and Hegel. Certainly the looks and the smell were not of blissful happiness but of misery and depression. The voice and the facial expression was not of a philosopher searching for wisdom and truth but of a madman digging for gold in a desert. But on the hindsight, I think the two (madman and philosopher) go well together and perhaps even complement each other quite wonderfully as the old communist pair Marx and Engels .

The poor man looked me straight into the eye and uttered these predictable syllables: “Could you give me a couple of cents? I have lost my documents.”
“What an asshole! How dare he do this to me!”, was my first spontaneous inner reaction. An irritating, even if sincere question. I stood frozen for a few seconds thinking: “How to escape this guilt-trap?” Yes, this was what I was thinking. I am that bad of a human being. A moral monster. A sort of objectivist, a deeply entranced follower of Ayn Rand. An enemy of altruism and human solidarity. Perhaps even worse, being fully disengaged of any commitments to society, any values or principles deemed worthy of protection or proclamation, free as a bird in a cage I have lost the appetite for the jungle and prefer to live in a zoo.
“Why do you need the money?”, utterly humiliated and miserable I asked, already conceding a heavy psychological defeat. I admire those courageous spirits who would just ignore or reproach and publicly scold the insolent little gangster. To his disgrace, the beggar has not been instructed in elegant manners. Perhaps I should educate the lad a little and bestow some philosophical wisdom upon this unworthy specimen. He clearly lacks civility and has no sense of a refined style – a charming smile, expressive eyes, silky smooth, velvety tone of voice. He appears brutish and nasty. His smile reveals the missing teeth. Eyes are blurry and red. He runs like a headless chicken straight into the oven. In fact, everything about him smells false and rotten.
In his primitive mind, he thinks that he can approach me without any hesitation and without a proper decorum of a civilized ape and confront me with his flatulent savagery. What a mindless sociopath! Do you really think you can get away with this? Do you really think that I am obliged to answer your pointless and vain queries? You have obviously never heard of the basic rule of our society, which is – to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the vicissitudes of fellow citizens. Maintain a proper distance from strangers, remain quiet and don’t complain. In short, mind your own business and let me mind mine. Democracy is for egotists.

“Look, I just came out of prison and lost all of my documents. I need money to buy something to eat.”, the beggar now appeared even more despicable. Am I truly to believe that this deceitful rascal is telling me the pure and naked, virginal truth like Botticelli when he painted “the Birth of Venus“? Or am I to suspend my disbelief and go along with the story, if only for the sake of entertainment? I’ve been deceived far too many times by saintly-esque dunces into believing their fairy tales. But even if the hobo is speaking with the mouth of the Holy Spirit, am I to feed his belly?

I replied in my standard, non-involved, superior pseudo-scholarly manner: “That’s not good. You should not lose your documents. Have you been to the police station to report your lost passport?”.
Of course I didn’t buy his story. Although he certainly looked like a homeless and a hungry ex-prisoner to me. But in these days of information overload and science euphoria you can never be certain of anything. Even if the almighty God appeared in all his majesty and glory with an angelic choir of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones by his side troubadouring the Gospel of repentance, he and his heavenly gang would be denounced as a collective hallucination and explained away as an evil magical trick. Remember, one’s intellectual diet should always be mixed with a healthy (read: heavy) dose of skepticism.

Meanwhile the beggar gave me a bewildered look signaling that I am completely mad. I dare to speculate what he was thinking: “Out of all the nice and tender people I could have approached I’ve bumped, to my great distress and disappointment, into this pseudo-intellectual madman who has deluded himself into believing that words have any meaning beyond that which we create.”
However, what he said was this: “No. I haven’t been to the police station yet. I am homeless, I am starving and I need help. Can you give me a cent or two?”
Just as I was about to lose the hope of eradicating the beggar from my neural circuitry, I felt being pushed into a corner and shamefully almost reached into my back-pocket to pacify the canny and persistent illusion in front of me. Multiple times I have given penny’s to beggars – one cleverer than the other – and not once I have come out of the moral dilemma with a dry skin.

But then the relief came. The long-awaited Savior on the railway. The tram had arrived. I said what so many people say when approached by a stranger: “I am sorry. Unfortunately I don’t have the time.” And so I ran, without looking back, and jumped into the tram just before the doors got closed. I don’t know what happened to the beggar. Should I care? I guess it’s obvious, isn’t it? The guilt-trap has been laid and you too, dear reader, are now caught in it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Beggar and the Beast

  1. Not such a bad beast, you. Give a dollar next time. 😉

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