Athol Williams. Beggars


I begged there every day,
at the same traffic light,
corner of Rivonia Rd and Outspan Rd,
for scraps,
for coins,
for mercy,
from those in BMWs and Jaguars and Audis
with a crumpled cardboard sign that read:

I’d be on bended knees
that struck the earth,
cushioned by the hard, jagged asphalt,
my head bowed low,
my face pitiful.
I’d imitate the queen,
and wave the royal beggar wave
to draw attention
like an idiot
as fumes from five-litre engines
filled my empty stomach.
The crumpled cardboard sign in my heart read:
for I had dissolved a long time ago.

The faces in the cars would ignore me,
awkwardly, they’d turn away,
away from me,
away from their shame
and wave a dismissive hand,
“Fuck off,
go get a job!” 

I’d been offered a job
but I didn’t want it;
I’d rather stand there.
The faces were right,
I should fuck off
because I didn’t have to be there.
So I would be a beggar
and be ignored
and be sworn at
and get saliva-soaked leftover sandwiches
or a cigarette butt
or pneumonia.

Then one day I took that job,
abandoned my corner
to the relief of the faces
in the BMWs and Jaguars and Audis.

But I still see those faces,
only now they don’t ignore me;
waving, pleading, bowing, bending,
only now it’s not me.
“Please don’t take our things,
please don’t hurt us,”
they beg.

We’re actually all the same,
it just depends on who holds the power
to grant wishes,
and who’s on their knees.
“Fuck off,” I say, cocking my gun,
“this is my job!”

All first published in Bumper Cars (The Onslaught Press, 2015)
© Athol Williams

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