Altruism (451 words)

He sits on the cold concrete steps outside the shopping arcade. His clothes are filthy and tattered. He mumbles his mantra.

"There's nothing to be scared of" 

Over and over.

Passers-by avert their eyes pretend they don't see him. A few of the more mean spirited hurl spiteful abuse.

"Get a job"

"Have a wash"

That’s the polite end of the spectrum, others accuse of being a junkie or an alcoholic, call him vermin. 

Another claims he is just pretending. Goes on to explain how he knows he probably drives a bmw and lives in a penthouse but he isn't falling for it, he isn't giving him the steam off his piss.

The abuse doesn't  bother him, what really hurts are the ones who genuinely don’t notice him, he sees family members and old work mates walk by him as if he is invisible.

He doesn't blame them, used to do the same himself. Spy the wretched waifs in the distance and cross the road to avoid them.

If he had his time again he would do it all so differently, he wouldn't ignore them, he'd give them the 10p for a cup of tea. 

He'd buy them breakfast, buy the magazines, find them a hostel for the night.

Hell he would offer them his own bed.

Someone taps him on the shoulder snapping him out of his day dream. He winces, bracing himself for another beating.

One of the costs of living  this life.

When the boot, the fist, the bat, doesn't come he looks up and sees a kind face looking down at him. 

She can't be more than twenty three and hasn't yet lost the compassion from her pale blue eyes. She is holding the familiar crumpled brown bag with the golden arches on.

"It isn't much and I didn't know what drink you'd like so I got a hot chocolate, everyone likes chocolate and you look like you could do with something warm inside you "
She says offering him the bag and a steaming paper cup.

He stares up at her, not knowing what to say, tears fill his eyes,  finally he manages a "Thank you"

She smiles again, motions towards his soggy cardboard sign.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, you know."

For the first time in months he feels the fear drain from him, he smiles and  says "Thank you" again. 

She thinks he means for the food, really he means for the fleeting chance of feeling human again. She rubs his shoulder offering what little comfort she can and walks away feeling proud of herself.

He sits on his steps, eats the first warm meal he has had in weeks and feels alive.

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