I saw her from afar, and I knew what was coming. As I drew nearer, I stole a glance at her. She was sitting directly on the cobblestones, in a black dress, a colorful scarf wrapped around her head. Maybe in her 50s? It was difficult to say at a single glance.
It is the glance that singled me out though, in the crowd of passers-by. She looked up and called out with a smile in her voice: “Bonjour mademoiselle !” (Hello miss). I threw a quick uneasy smile back and walked away, in shame.
I had decided. I knew I wanted to get to know the homeless & the beggars of my own country. To make a connection, to give money whenever I had coins in my wallet. To give them a smile and a human connection, as I do with the homeless in Kuala Lumpur.
And yet, at the first sight of the “confrontation”, I shied away. And, as before, as most French people do, I gave myself the same old excuses. “She is a Roma.” “She belongs to a mafia-style group.” “The money is not going to her, she will have to give it to someone else at the end of her day.”
I walked to the corner of the street… and stopped. That was not me. Seriously? What was I doing? In my own country…
I took a 50ct coin out of my wallet and turned back.
Beggars see people every day, they look at passers-by’s face all the time in the hope of catching their eyes. As soon as she saw me, she recognized me. Or maybe it’s my skirt, flying everywhere as usual, that drew her eyes. She watched me coming back, a smile on her face.
“Merci, c’est gentil” (Thank you, it’s nice)
I gave her the coin.
And it was not enough. I wanted to talk to her. I had nothing to say. I went ahead, feeling stupid at the generalities I was giving in the hope of creating the connection.
“Do you stay here all day long?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Oh wow, time must feel so long sometimes.”
The stupidities we can say too often…
“Where are you from?”
I could only sigh. I knew, and I knew the difficulty of her life here.
“Good luck, I hope everything will be fine.”
“Thank you, it’s really nice.”
She had such a musical voice, full of kindness, just the slight trace of a foreign accent.
She sounded like a mother.
I walked away, smiling, feeling lighter, knowing I had done the right thing… and yet something was amiss. This random connection had not been complete, I felt unfulfilled.
And while I was walking on the cobblestones, under the sun, wondering what it was (Too small a coin? Not enough time talking? Should have I sit with her?), it suddenly felt really important. What was I missing?
I stopped on the next Square, settled in a corner & watched people go on their life, thoughts floating in my head.
And then it struck.
I wanted to ask her for forgiveness.
I wanted to say sorry for all the horrible things my country is doing to Romas, for the way France is treating them, for the random deportations, for the racism, for the families separated, for…
That’s when I started to cry, in the middle of Rennes, feeling empty inside.
The sun kept on shining above…