Street encounters

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on July 26, 2019 Published on July 26, 2019

1) Bins and I go for a walk most evenings. We pass our local Dunkin’ Donuts and the next door church before turning left to cross Broadway. This evening, just before we turn left, a voice calls out: “Hello there, sir!”

We both swing around to see a man in his mid-30s standing up from the park bench he’s been sharing with two other men. They are clearly homeless — white-haired and pale-skinned, their eyes look like empty window frames. By contrast, our hailer has glossy mocha-brown skin and black hair. Medium tall, pleasantly robust. His purple T-shirt is clean and his jeans only slightly greasy. He comes forward with his hand held towards Bins, while giving me a friendly but respectful nod.

The three of us engage in a conversation that we all know, or think we know, is going to end in a request for money. “It’s my birthday tomorrow,” he says. “And I’m homeless.” Then he pauses, glancing from one to the other of us, as we look back. “So ... I’m assuming you folks are ...” He pauses again. “You believe in the Almighty?” I and Bins shake our heads in unison. I say, “We’re not believers.” Bins says, “Sorry, but I have no faith.” Whereupon the young man, to my great surprise says, “Okay, then! You folks have a good day.” He shakes us both by the hand, turns and goes back to his bench. We continue with our walk. Mildly stunned.

2) This morning I go to the main post office. It’s in the touristy area of this seaside resort and I don’t come here often. A number of smart new shops have sprung into existence. I’m not a keen shopper so I hurry along, looking away from the window displays. But as I pass by one small store, my gaze is snagged by... a tray of cupcakes? Outside, in the warm sunshine?

In the instant that I do a double-take the owner pops out and says, “Haha — what d’you think these are?” Knowing it’s wrong I say anyway, “Uhhh ... cupcakes?” The petite dark-haired lady with a foreign accent chuckles delightedly. She holds a “cupcake” up to my nose. “No!” she says, as she reels me in, “it’s soap!” She sells me a hand cream at a “today-only, special price” then asks me what I use on my face. “Nivea,” I say. She looks frankly amazed. “REALLY?” I shrug. “Yup. Flat blue tin, cheap, available everywhere. Twice daily.” She gives me a grudging nod. “Well. Your skin DOES look good,” she says, handing me a tiny gilded carry-bag.

3) A little further down, another new storefront. A smiling young man with a pencil-thin moustache, stands at the steps. He sees my gilded carry-bag and says, “Ooh là là! You have bought something nice?” Then he hands me a free sachet of fancy lotion as I carry on towards the post office. Smiling all the way.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on July 26, 2019
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