4 September 2006

The girl who cried in the metro

Had my transit from Metro line 6 to line 7 this afternoon, I boarded the train in Place d'Italie, and this girl was pleading for a small piece of coin to eat. She was about 18, a bit clumsy, in black t-shirt and black jeans. Her appearance does not differ much from other teens in the street. She was looking at the passengers, soliciting their sympathy with her simple sentence, "I am really hungry, please, if you have a coin for me..." She did not enter the metro with a usual rhetorical salutation and a fabulous speech, but very plain and genuine request, une piece pour manger. She's not a professional beggar; she's rather decent and clean in the way she dressed. She must have a shelter, so she's not homeless...

She looked at the crowd around her, and met no eyes, no sympathy. She was disappointed, anxious, embarrassed and helpless. She had no idea how to convince them to help her. Hesitated, she stood there, lost all her words, the air was chilling in the wagon of 27 degree Celsius. She looked around, were they all deaf? were they all blind? or just that she was born transparent? She was ashamed of herself and desperated with the indifference of the people around her, she dropped her tears.

At which point did her life turned wrong? Was she too lazy to work at school? Was she abandonned by her parents at young age? Did she once run away with a stupid guy?

Tears on her face, and she did not bother to wipe them off; just like the poor beggar's face dusted by a rich man's car.

The guy next to her gave her a 20-cent coin. She was grateful for him and she gathered her courage once again, and asked, "I haven't eaten anything today, please help me, or if so happen that you have a sandwich or an apple with you." This is her final plead. Anything would do... please...

Under what circumstance would we have the courage to seek a stranger's sympathy and mercy? How low can human dignity be? How hard is the feeling when no one bothers about your sincere plea?

It's very difficult to stay cool and indifferent in this kind of situation. I am not yet trained for this. So, I gave her two euros. She was a bit surprised. And I thought immediately, am I encouraging her to continue her life like this? Is this the reason for the Parisiens' reluctance to respond? Or simply their usual attitude that "the State will do"? Or that they are used it to? Why their Fraternite does not extend to people outside their social class? Are they all fed up with these beggings? Is this their blase attitude to maintain their inward balance and not to be upheaved by the emotional shocks?

Imagine this is your sister, imagine she was lost and found, imagine she told you the story in the metro that she was starving and no one helped her. Would you wished so dearly that they would have had given her a piece of coin or a half baguette? Imagine I had a car accident in Paris (touchwood!), far in HK, in the US, in Taipei, in London, in Madrid, in Tokyo, in India... would you hope that a stranger in Paris would have had helped me and saved my life? because I am your friend? because I am the one you love? and this day, we don't bother with this girl crying in the metro because she is not my friend, because I don't have love for her? Look at her, look deep into her wet eyes, and you see love, the love from her parents, the love from her borthers and sisters, the love from her friends, the love from her dog... they are all pleading you... And you have love, love at your heart which extended to her, her family and frineds, and her dog... all of them are strangers to you...

Is my sympathy hypocritical? How far are they differed from each other, sympathy and hypocracy?

The number of beggars in Paris is far greater than I have imagined. At every turn of the street, there is a homeless sitting or kneeing there, with a paper sign asking for a coin. This group is the silent pleaders, they do not look at people, they sat there quietly, heads down, staring hopelessly at their moneybox. Their regretful face tells you that "all I need is just a chance". They knew they have no good excuse for their situation today and they ask for a chance. The opposite is the rhetoric group. They are not homeless like the first group, they are the almost life-long unemployed so they become professional beggars. They enter the metro and telling you how step by step, one accident after another, that they sank into the bottom of the society. They positioned themselves as the victim of social injustice, of human predicament, of a fate neglected by God… They ask for your understanding and justice, and telling you not to commit the same mistake, finally they wish you good health and a fulfilling life. Then they come to you one by one asking for a coin to live decently.

The third group is the merry-go-round beggars, they have a happy life even though, and they live in community. They have dogs, friends, wine bottles and cigarettes with them. Metro platform is their favourite hang out place. They got drunk from time to time, teasing the beautiful women passed by, threatening guy... they are usually the dirty old men who lead their life happily as a homeless. The fourth group is the most aggressive one, they grasp your arm in the street and ask you for a coin. They are mainly old ladies, most likely gipsys, and most of them don't speak French. So they targeted at the tourists.

Can anyone tell me why there are so many beggars in Paris?