More Than A Million Words
When I first came to my office in London, I noticed him. He sat in the market place day after day, same place as always, same position, on his knees in an attitude of humility. A small wooden bowl was before him, and occasionally, a passerby would drop in a coin or two with a small clink. I never had time for him; he was just another beggar on the streets of London. And one couldn’t give money to all beggars.
Everyday, I passed him in on my way to work, and everyday, I would see him outside the window of my office, still kneeling in submission, as if he knew he was below even the common folk.
But my work was hard, and I soon forgot about him, engrossed in the situations brought to me as a lawyer. Yet others noticed him and pestered me with questions concerning him. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with one man. It was several months after my arrival in London, and I was just getting settled into daily life here when a client of mine, a jolly middle-aged man with hair beginning to gray, walked into my office with a matter of business regarding his land.
“Good afternoon,” I said, greeting him with an air of general professionalism. “And how have you been?”
“Quite well, indeed, considering how much it’s rained outside,” he replied in a cheerful manner. “You know,” he began again, after receiving no answer from me. “I really thought for a while that with all this rain and wind, the market would be closed down for the day; but no, it’s still open, though filled with a little less than the usual amount of customers.”
“Indeed,” I replied, my voice dripping with sarcasm, for I deemed it necessary to respond to his chatter. I took the papers he offered me, and began to look through them. I was somewhat surprised by the silence that took place afterwards, for I had expected him to babble on. As I finished reading, I became aware that he was staring out the window, as if absorbed in watching something that interested him very much. Slapping the papers down on the desk, I cleared my throat with a loud, “AHEM”. He started.
“Righto, then!” he grinned. “Everything alright?”
“Yes, I’ll just need you to sign these papers.” Handing him a pen, I walked over to the window, and casually glanced out. At first, nothing caught my attention as unusual; as my eyes adjusted to the familiar sights and sounds, I saw that the market was rather empty. Vendors were chatting with other vendors, while the few customers that were there, rough hooligans mostly, ambled around, gaping at items and laughing loudly at their own worthless jokes.
But something did catch my eye—the old man again—but this time a little girl sat in front of him. She was scrawny with tight, brown braids poking out of her head like sticks. The man was feeding her something out of the bowl, so used before for begging, and now used as it should be. I was startled by my client, who had moved next to me and was also observing the pair.
“That’s real love, isn’t it?” he asked after a pause. I nodded. He went on again, “I knew him once before. A good fellow, really. So tender hearted and kind. It’s just like him to give up his money for a little lass.” We watched them until the bell clanged twelve. Then he took his leave.
I sat staring at nothing in particular. Then, with a sudden inspiration, I knew not where it came from, I got up and grabbed my jacket. Taking out a five-pound note, I strode out the door and down the street.
The beggar man looked up, and the child with him, her small, brown eyes staring silently up at me. I did not look specifically in their direction, but as I passed, I let the note drop, as if on accident, for his special benefit. Straying into a café just opposite, I sat down and every now and then glanced in their direction.
I saw the child run to the street and snatch up the note with glee; I saw her take it back to the man and carefully smooth it out for his weary eyes to see; and I witnessed what I did not expect to see.
The old man reached for his stick and slowly gathered himself to his feet. With slow haltering steps, he and the child, hand in hand, came to the door of the café and sat down, waiting. Minutes went by; they did not move. Minutes that turned to hours; and still they sat on. I could not help but wonder their purpose, but as I needed to get back to business, I calmly sauntered to the door. Once out in the open I quickened my pace—
“Serw.” I stopped. A little, childish voice came from near my feet. I looked down and there they were crouched at the foot of the window, waiting patiently for time to pass. “Did you dwop dis?” She held up the five-pound note with a gesture of pretty innocence. Touched by that voice, I looked into her eyes and gently said,
“Yes, it was mine…” her face fell as I spoke the words; I needed to do something... “But it is yours now.” I watched as a smile of delight stole over her hopeless countenance, and somehow, I felt as if I didn’t deserve that ray of sunshine.
“God bless you, sir! God bless you for your kindness!” murmured the man with shining eyes. As I walked from my office that afternoon the child had a bright smile on her face, happily giving the beggar man a warm loaf of sweet bread; I thought how one quick thought could shape a greater action; how one kind action could bring about a smile; how one gentle look was more than a million words of comfort.