The Outcast – Stray Dogs and Paper Walls
His right hand reaching out. Fingers not quite open. Left hand holding handkerchiefs, head down but searching. Like a stray dog running away from a place he has been chased. On his right side an empty bottle, above him chains and lock on a door where he cannot enter to find selter. And a hat for those who are in hurry and want to throw money. He does not quite beg for he does not look at the pedestrians, he does not plead for mercy, nor money. As being ashamed of his position. The Outcast.
They say that begging is a hard job and not all beggars make money. Beggars become organized, they work for other people who take advantage of them, collect their money and they only take a share. These beggars know the rules of how to sell their position. They show off somehow their misery. They know what can attract the attention of a pedestrian, they know that for many a hand reaching is not enough. There are other instruments more effective on this “job”.
Selling a small token gives the opportunity to the consumer – filanthropist to escape his thought that I am throwing away my money. He can then give money. A small child besides a mother also is a helpful tool. Playing an instrument not as a musician should but as someone who does not know how to play but still he has no other choice but to play, can also create a feeling of pity. Others do not need to buy anything to feel the need to give to beggars.
It is as if beggars exist for fulfilling the need for someone to feel superior and understanding, to feel a bit of shame and become a bit shocked. As if there is a need for that. In order to keep a sense of humanity alive. Beggars are a chance to feel human. In order to keep living in a pressing environment that creates beggars. The role of a beggar, in this sense, is similar to that of an artist who becomes the object of art. For the artist – beggar, it is the only way he can survive. For the citizen – consumer, watching a beggar is an instrument to find a deep hidden sense of humanity but also to appreciate his current position.
I spoke to him. He looked at me but did not reply. I asked him if he had shelter, he reached to give me handkerchiefs and escaped my pervasive look. This man was trying to hide. This man was not accustomed to begging.
After the official declaration of financial crisis in Greece, soon enough many streets were filled with beggars. All kinds of beggars. Mothers with their newborn children. Children playing music, disabled people, long term drug addicts, old ladies. But also people who clean your car windshield, or help you park your car. As if the crisis opened the doors of a new world which up to that point only periodically made evident its existence. New people add up to this new world every day. Their population seems to grow as time passes.
All this happened quite fast. As if there was already a plan in action and there were other people who knew that there might be a chance to make money from the occasion. Now, it is evident that there are organized systems of beggar trafficking. In these times of crisis, citizens seem to be more understanding and even with less money on their pockets, they are more willing to give. This is still capitalism.
The Outcast is no longer on the street I used to find him. Instead, they covered the deserted building with a huge “cloth”. This cloth was an advertisement of a healthy man, strong, confident and selfish – a survivor - entering a big store to buy an expensive watch. A wall to hide a deserted building and a deserted man. A cloth wall to protect a “healthy” society from the reality that is more and more evident. To “stop” an intrusion that seems inevitable.
Just like the wall that the greek government decided to built on the frontiers of Evros region to stop refugees from entering the country. A society that does not find solutions but hides behind false walls. An endangered existence. That chooses to become cannibalistic to its people instead of changing. We just keep on living our lives and beggars are useful as long as they help us do so. This, we call tolerant: As long as.
If not, we built walls. Walls that if we decide, we could - just with the move of one right hand - make them fall down. And we hide. Just like the outcast who was ashamed. His right hand reaching, his fingers not quite open. Stray dogs. Scared. Not his choice to beg.
This is a story of the reality of a man who since that moment I have not seen him anywhere on the streets again.. A man who seemed like an outcast even from the society of beggars. This is a story about the collective reality in Greece. My reality also. Stray dogs and paper walls. Walls fall.