Indian in England

Musings of a student

Friday, April 09, 2004

Spare change, sir?

BOURNEMOUTH is windy. Wickedly windy. Through the day, every day.

Anyone under 12 stones is at serious risk here. Every year hundreds of children and anorexic adults are blown away never to be heard of again. An equal number -- mainly women on diet, I believe -- is deposited atop distant lampposts, trees and high-rise ledges, necessitating immediate rescue by hefty firemen wearing weighted boots.

This, of course, is the real reason why Bournemouth is such an expensive place to live in. The constant demand for rescue operations pushes up the council tax, which, in turn, hikes pretty much everything else.

Initially I found the wind cute. There I would be walking along and suddenly a gust would half-carry me a few furlongs. I would take a few more steps and the wind would do its bit again. It certainly was a faster way of commuting.

But once I made it clear I was going to be around for three years, the wind turned nasty. Now it always blows from the opposite direction, forcing me to fight my way. And when I am at the height of my struggle, leaning into it with all my weight, it would stop, just like that, and I would end up scurrying the next few metres to regain my balance.

Not just me, all Bournemouthians are exposed to this harassment in my part of the town. Around Lansdowne, which is close to the beach, you will see people doing this curious walk -- two steps in slow motion leaning forward, the next four at a run leaning back -- at any point of the day, hanging on for dear life to bulging, white ASDA bags.

The only person immune to all this is a lady of inscrutable age, who sits in a doorway near my office building. Wind or storm, she is there most evenings, wrapped in a brown blanket, her bright -- and sometimes glazed -- eyes shining out of a leathery face.

For the past five months, she has been trying to part me from my pennies. Needless to say, she hasn’t had any success, and I don’t think she ever will.

“Excuse me, sir,” she will sing out as I approach, “Would you have any spare change, please?”

And as I hurry past keeping a very firm hand on my wallet, “Thanks anyway sir, enjoy your evening…”

It’s amazing, her perseverance. I thought she would give up if I walked by pretending not to hear. I tried this for a few weeks.

Then I decided to give her my malevolent stare. I practised it in front of the mirror till my brow hurt and let her have it the next evening. No dice. For a person who sits still shrugging off the elements of nature, that was water of a duck’s back, I guess.

My nerves grated raw by her continued assault, I decided to be nasty to her. Choosing an evening when no one was within earshot, I walked towards her as soon as she began her song.

“Don’t have any change to spare,” I said. “Nor will I for the next three years. So you can stop asking!”

“Thanks anyway, sir,” she sang out through a mouth of reddish, broken teeth and liquor stench. “Enjoy your evening…”

She still asks me for money. But it doesn’t get under my skin anymore. We are allies now, and not just against the wind.