Yesterday was Anzac Day, in Australia, which is when servicemen and women are remembered and honoured. It is also when the shops don’t open till 1 p.m. As it’s a once-a-year phenomenon, people often forget. I, along with a growing collection of citizens, stood outside the local supermarket waiting for it to open. The local homeless man sat next to the entrance, ready for donations. He probably isn’t homeless but I can’t call him a beggar because he is too polite and dignified. He has a profession – he asks for money.
“Got a few spare coins, love?” he always asks. If you say no, he doesn’t object. If you give him something, he always says, “Thanks, love.”
I was at the head of the supermarket line. When I first came up to the unopening automatic doors, the man said, “Not open for fifteen more minutes. Anzac Day, love.”
I noticed that he gave other people the same response. Not everyone. Some people he said nothing to.
An equally scruffy man, about the same age (maybe sixty, but wearing the scars of a hard sixty years), who seemed to know the man was told about the shops current closure. Quick as a wink, the shopper turned to his mate and said, “When are you open then?”
Without hesitation, the homeless man replied, “24/7. I’m always open.”
“You’re keen,” said his shopping friend.
Neither changed tone, neither cracked a smile, but both had cracked a joke, and shared it with all listening.
After a pause, the homeless man turned to me and said, “Got much to buy today, love?”
“Not much,” I answered with a smile.
“What’s on your list?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you,” I said pulling my list out with a dramatic flurry. I was fairly sure that he didn’t really want me to read through my boring list. “Butter,” I said and paused to see if that was enough.
He nodded encouragingly to go on.
“Eggs,” I continued with another pause.
“Yes,” he said with great interest as if I was reading him the most enthralling story. By now, everyone else was also listening to my shopping list.
“Chocolate,” I said with an enthusiastic wave of my arms. That one was greeted with much approval.
At the end of my list reading, the shopping mate said to the homeless man, “All I heard was chocolate.”
We all parted company with the opening of the door. A man, I didn’t recognise, passed me near the eggs and smiled in acknowledgment of the pre-shopping exchange.
Of course, on my way out of the supermarket, I gave the homeless man the chocolate I had bought him and a little bit of cash.
“Thanks, love,” he said putting the money in his dirty plastic bag. He looked at the chocolate and repeated, “Thanks, love. Thanks a lot.”