New Fiction: Any Spare Change? by Sarah Gray
Updated: May 24, 2021
‘Any spare change?’ he pleaded. An impish sort of man wearing oversized clothing sat on the pavement, a cap laid out in front of him. He appeared all the more frail for sitting under the unremittingly large sign of a major supermarket. She hoped this chain donated its out-of-date products to the homeless. She also hoped he’d already collected a decent amount of money that morning. It would be unbearable to see just a few pennies in the bottom of his hat.
People passed him. Some refused to look, some rushed by, embarrassed at the idea they might be caught out by a glance; others tossed in a few coins, and some gave a slight, near-imperceptible nod. It’s outrageous, in this day and age, that someone should be homeless and on the streets, she thought, feeling guilty for her bed. One of her greatest joys was snuggling under the duvet and luxuriating in its warmth and comfort. She wanted to be brave. How could she look him in the face? He might have been urinated on or even beaten. She screwed up her nose.
‘Any spare change?’ Imploring again, he looked up to the busy people hurrying by. What about drugs! Maybe he was an addict; he did look pale. Donating to a homelessness charity was the better option. No! She must be brave. There was at least ten pounds’ worth of change in her purse, she’d give him that. Asking him to help himself would be awkward, but she could manage the discomfort. It was the right thing to do, after all. What if he stole her purse! The unwelcome thought popped into her head. Don’t be ridiculous, she chastised herself.
Approaching him, she prepared to speak in her clearest voice. ‘Excuse me,’ she said. He looked at her. She looked at him. But before she could continue, he lowered his eyes in a fixed stare, seemingly scrutinising his cap. Trying again in a loud voice, she said, ‘Excuse me.’ Turning his head away, he searched the distance – for a friend, perhaps, late for their appointed rendezvous. One last time, she shouted, ‘I have some money for you, in my purse. Take it.’ Still he searched for his tardy friend.
Using her head, she pressed on the control pad of her wheelchair and rolled towards the entrance of the supermarket. From behind she heard a voice, pleading, ‘Any spare change?’