I went on my own for a visit in the big city yesterday, and it was pretty fruitful. I visited a museum house; I got lost in the streets of the old town; I passed by the sinagogue in the medieval jewish quarter -I didn’t even know there was a sinagogue… The jewish community was expelled from Spain twice: in 1492 and in the XVII century*– where I heard a rabbi singing; I went into a church were they were celebrating what I think was an Evangelicalist Sunday mass; I found a clothing vintage market at the central university campus area; and I came across a Japanese stall at a small square from an association that raised funds for the victims of the 2011 tsunami by selling self-made products such as T-shirts, watercolor paintings, or writing your name in kanji characters.
But the most interesting experience I had was probably meeting a guy who claimed having lived on the streets for about 6 years.
He rode a bike where he carried a black leather jacket he told me had just found in a trash can, and a couple of bread loaves in a plastic bag. He had a black beard, he wore a bun, a Red Cross sweatshirt, khaki trousers and trainers. You could have mistaken him for a hipster. He told me he was 45.
He came to me to ask for some money -he told me that since I was a native it was easier for him to approach me than grumpy tourists- because he wanted to buy a couple of shoes he had just seen in a showcase in a shop. He bargained to get the store manager to sell him those for just 6€, and he had succeeded. Now he just needed to gather the money.
First of all, I have to say that I don’t usually give money to beggars or anybody else for that matter. I am pretty distrustful when it comes to money -and as a general rule. I was recently tempted to give a few coins to a couple of girls who sang tangos in the subway, but I finally backed down. But, even though I was reluctant at the beginning, I genuinely liked the guy. He was a loner eager to talk and I guess so was I, so we hit it off, I gave him just a little money and a piece of a cheese sandwich I hadn’t finished at lunchtime -for which he was thankful- and also some conversation.
Apparently, he wasn’t living on the street because he had been evicted -as many people in this country during the crisis-, or anything like that, but because he had actually chosen to. He wasn’t living a happy life and since he had no family obligations because he had no kids, he decided to give up on everything and start a new life as some kind of hermit or rover. Ever since, he had live here and there and travelled around Europe on his bycicle.
“All these people are living a lie.”, he said referring to people passing by. And even at the risk of sounding like a proselyte, I think he was right. He talked about God a lot: “People need to walk with God instead of talking about him so much.” I think he was right as well. I guess he was worthy of admiration, though I didn’t tell him because apparently he was tired of being told that by other young beggars he encountered in his street life -I was shocked to find out there were so many youngsters, most of them drug addicts, living in the streets.
Don’t know. Maybe he was lying to me. Maybe he wanted to buy some grass -he told me he smoked pot- instead of a pair of shoes he needed because the ones he was wearing had worn off. Maybe he thought I was an easy target because I was a young woman walking alone in the street. Whatever the case, I chose to believe him. I had a nice time talking to him and I believe he had a nice time talking to me too -although he didn’t want to tell me what he did before leading this kind of life because he said giggling shyly he was embarrassed. To be honest, I was sad when we parted. It felt like talking to an old friend. We hadn’t exchanged names, and anyways, it was quite unlikely that I was ever going to see him again. We were talking for about twenty minutes, but I wished we had talked a little -or a lot- longer.
I wish him well.