Every evening I arrive in town, after my trek from the wastelands. I alight at O’Connell Street – the nation’s main thoroughfare – which is suddenly looking lovely, after the removal of the tram works and the festive decorations bedazzling the street. When the weather is mild I will take a left on North Earl Street and wander down Talbot Street on my way home. The denizens of Talbot Street are an eclectic mix – from tourist, to shopper, to office worker, to street entrepreneur. The main trade done by the latter, is the buying, selling and consumption of illegal substances – blueys and yellows in the main. These fine ladies and gentleman of industry are not the focus of today’s blog however. That dubious honour goes to the beggar-woman of North Earl Street.
I first encountered her some time ago in the days following my move to town, after my ignominious escape from the Lair of the Flatenemy. I was horrified when I saw her. There she was – at the junction of North Earl Street and O’Connell Street – hobbling, and making cries of pain. Her back was hunched. She was elderly and in distress. The Burger King disposable cup was proffered as she begged from passers-by.
How could this be, I thought to myself? I was already aware of how disposable people are in the government’s Republic of Opportunity. And that woe-betide you if any ill fortune comes your way, as unless you have a safety net, then you will be discarded as thrash, worthless unless contributing in a financial way to the economy. But I never thought that an elderly woman, with physical impairments would be allowed to slip through the cracks like that. I put my hand in my pocket – feeling wretched – as I gave her a tenner.
Then the following evening I saw her again. And then the next. And the next. I started to wonder. This was clearly her full time job. The location was always the same. I see her because I am in the same place, at the same time every day. The tourists or out-of-towners wouldn’t necessarily be aware of her constant presence. The stooped position and the painful hobble were also as before. People flinched when they saw her obvious distress. Not wanting to be confronted with the sight of an old, infirm person in such blatant pain. Her five days a week collection, seemed quite lucrative. The donations received from the pedestrians were regular. I didn’t give her money again.
About six months later, one Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer, I was walking out of the Ilac Shopping Centre just as the shops were closing. Walking down the street, I noticed her on the opposite side of O’Connell Street, from the side she worked. There she was – still slightly hunched; clearly her infirmity is not entirely fictional, but walking faster and more upright than normal. She was not making the normal yelps of pain. Accompanying her, were two gentlemen. Into a car they all got, and drove off.
I need to be careful here, as I know how sensitive people can be on the subject of perceived slights on a person’s background. I would hazard a fairly educated guess however, that all three people are originally from an Eastern European country that quite recently joined the EU.
I have a dilemma. This is clearly a racket – an old woman with a disability (real or fictional or exaggerated?), and access to a car, is working a full time job, begging for money in the same location day after day. However is she a willing participant in the scam? Or is she being coerced by her male companions to do so?
I’d prefer to think she is a willing participant. In that instance I can just regard her as a con artist exploiting people’s sympathy. If however she is being forced then what can be done to help her? As an EU citizen she can report her abuse? But can she speak English? Even if a social worker was to approach her – would she tell the truth about her situation?
It is now the middle of December. Two days ago she was there again at 6pm – ever present. Moaning in pain with her hand outstretched for alms.
Yesterday evening saw a repeat performance. Only this time she was barefoot. In December. Where were her shoes? She’d had them the day before, and every day previously. Is this part of the con? Clearly. But whose idea was it for her to go barefoot? Hers or her ‘sponsors’?
What should I do?