I was walking home from the cafe where I worked when these kids came up to me and asked me for some money. I said no, I haven’t got any. I was thinking, you can’t give beggars money, right, or so I’d been told, it just encourages them – basically I was trying to justify being a dick – and I walked on, half-believing I’d helped them see they had to do something to get the cash, some half-arsed theory anyway, until suddenly they started shouting fuck you, or something like that, and then throwing stones.
Then I remembered I had cake. I looked down at the plastic bag I was carrying in my left hand – carrot cake we hadn’t sold in the cafe – and I thought I could go back and give them that, but then what about my theory? And, really, I wanted it. And they asked for money, not food. Maybe that was why I said I had no money and forgot about the cake. Or maybe I wanted to give it to my girlfriend as a surprise and then eat most of it myself.
In any case, I began to feel a little bit guilty or ashamed. Or not exactly guilty, but confused about whether I believed what I thought I believed – beggars shouldn’t be encouraged – or was using it as an excuse and the kids knew that.
So I ran off as the stones fell around me, until eventually I got out of range and came to an underpass where I knew there was a beggar – he was there every day, blankets around his legs, dog sitting sad-eyed beside him. I always thought he used the dog to get sympathy, so I never gave him anything. I thought he was being cynical – another one of my theories or excuses – but this time, feeling confused, or guilty, or believing I had to make up for something I wasn’t sure I had to make up for, I stopped beside him and decided to offer him the carrot cake. I thought it would be better giving him food than money. He probably had a drug habit too, though I had nothing to base that on, and I remembered a friend telling me once that he always gave beggars, or the homeless – that was the word he used – food so he wasn’t feeding their habit. He even said to them if you want money for drugs, tell me, don’t say it’s for a bus when it clearly isn’t.
I said: I haven’t got any money – an obvious lie and probably obvious to him – but do you want this cake?
He didn’t hesitate: what would I want cake for?