We are in the thronging, discordant food hall
at Euston Station, London, sipping
a latte and an americano from Caffé Ritazza,
taking the first bite of our Upper Crust bagettes –
mozzarella & tomato, pastrami & emmental –
while looking out for the disabled pigeon
that hops, scavenging, under the tables,
when we are approached, politely, gently,
by a bearded man with a shabby shoulder bag
from which he presents us with
an asymmetrically trimmed piece of paper
comprising a printed list, which appears
as if processed on an Amstrad PC:
‘I am a deaf mute.
I have no work.
I have a family to support.
Please help me, for the love of God.’
He also leaves a professionally produced
Romanian (we think) prayer card.
We notice he has disseminated the sheets
and the cards to all the tables
in our vicinity. He returns for the harvest.
Some give, most do not. We contribute more or less
the tithe of our meal. He takes his printed sheet,
leaves us the card, nodding his unsmiling thanks.
He moves on. The cacophony returns.
On the Virgin train to Crewe, we log-on.
‘Maica Domnului’, the prayer begins
– Romanian, ‘Mother of God’. (The giver
may be Roma, we think – informed judgement
or prejudice). It is, we deduce,
St Augustine’s intercessory prayer.
On the front of the card an icon
of the Virgin and Child is reproduced.
Mother and son are appropriately doleful.
She points to him, as if saying, ‘He is the one’.
Perhaps we have been conned. Maybe
our meek beggar has an apartment at Canary Wharf,
with those other cartoon characters,
The Masters of the Universe, and our modest gamble
will not have paid off. In English, as in Romanian,
‘charity’ and ‘justice’ are Latinate words. The British,
like the Roman Empire, kept the concepts distinct.
Interestingly, in Hebrew, one word encompasses both.