End of story

TRYING TO cross a busy road in the shopping district of Mombasa, and not having much success, I felt a tug on my left trouser leg, just below the knee. I didn't see him at first, because he was so close to the ground, but when I checked again, I saw this legless hunchback on a skateboard looking up at me. He was perspiring freely with the effort it had cost him to reach me, and he was stretching up to show me his empty palm. I think I may have started with surprise and done a sort of double take, for I'd never seen a legless hunchback on a skateboard before, let alone been touched by one.

But when I looked down into this face, I had an even greater surprise. He was a young man, 19 or 20 perhaps, handsome, and in spite of his hideous deformities, in the prime of his life. And he was smiling. He wasn't smiling in a sad, obsequious, beggarly fashion either. His face simply shone with gladness. I'm not joking. He had the most transparently joyful face I'd ever seen.

I don't know whether you have ever resorted to begging in the street. I haven't yet. But I like the idea of it. I think it would do me good. I have always suspected that the frankness involved and the continual knock-backs received give a street beggar an understanding of human nature that a trained professional would give his right arm for.

The art of begging, I always feel, is a nice one, requiring telepathic skills. Whatever the verbal line of patter might be, the subliminal message is a simple but powerful one. "This is me," it says. "Take a good look if you like. Essentially I am like you. I need help." Some generous hearts, I'm sure, can sense a genuine plea for help and respond every time. Others never.

I was walking along the waterfront in Benidorm once, with Sid, my old man, when we passed a blind man playing a fiddle. He was playing a very sad, very beautiful piece of music and his old and unseeing face had a transported, almost ecstatic look on it. As Sid and I passed him, Sid, who really is an out and out dickhead at times, casually flicked a lump of ice-cream in the old man's face. It was vanilla. The gob of ice-cream stuck to the old man's forehead for a lingering second and then dropped off. He stopped playing and wiped his head with the sleeve of his right hand. I was speechless. I couldn't believe that even Sid could do something so crass. But he thought it was so excruciatingly funny that he was helpless with laughter all the way along the waterfront (about a ten-minute walk), and still collapses in hysterics if you mention it today.

Later, I returned to the waterfront and tried to apologise to the old fiddler, but failed to make myself understood. He got it into his head that I was telling him to move on and he became aggressive. Passers-by glared at me for harassing a blind man. Even when I put some money into his hand as evidence of my good intentions, he thought I was bribing him to go away.

I dread to think what Sid would have done if he had been confronted by my man on the skateboard. At first I was so surprised to see a handsome smile on one so deformed that I laughed at him. He immediately laughed with me. He too could see the joke, and thought it a good one. In fact, any joke that I could see, he'd seen a long time ago. His eyes held mine. The moment was passing. Why did I hesitate? he said with his eyes. This is a simple request, man to man. Aren't these stumps, and this back, enough to make you act?

His gladness was faltering. He was losing faith in me, but decided to give me a few moments more of his valuable time. He would make allowances for my stupidity. He jerked his face backwards slightly and raised his eyebrows a bit more, as if to say, "Well?"

I looked down into his clear eyes and felt that of the two of us, it was me who needed helping. Then my peripheral vision and hearing told me there was a gap in the traffic. I turned away and ran across the road. I didn't look back. And that legless hunchback has been smiling at me, without malice, ever since.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

    Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue