After a birthday lunch in Cambridge today with some friends I stopped to look in the shop window next door to the restaurant. It was a farmer's market shop. I thought great; more people are starting to sell real food.
Feeling relaxed and very slightly inebriated and also interested in the shop I lingered a while looking in the windows. After a few minutes a man came out clutching a small plastic bag of tomatoes in front of him and asked me if I would buy them for him. I gazed at them. Some of them had a layer of mould, some of them had split open and they were all swimming around in a very unattractive, watery liquid at the bottom of the bag. I found myself saying "You don't want to buy those, they're rotten"
"I'm homeless" he said, reproachfully, as if I should have picked this up. He didn’t look homeless to me although I could see then that his manner was not quite normal and obviously trying to sell the tomatoes was a desperate, if not futile, act. He said "I'm hungry and I need something to eat”."I'm sorry but I'm rather skint myself" I said "I can't help you", which was true. I had just spent £20 I could ill afford at the restaurant next door.
He then looked again at the tomatoes and then at me, opened the shop door and laid them gently on a shelf and walked off. I felt bemused and after a while rather guilty. We could both have had a decent meal for £10 each. I had eaten well, he hadn’t eaten.
I'm still trying to compute this as I write. Even if I was dying of hunger and thirst I wouldn't eat those tomatoes. Even if someone did manage to get them down they would probably end up regurgitating them or contracting something very nasty. If I had been gullible enough to buy them, although God knows where he got them from, or if indeed he owned them, would he have kept the money to buy something else rather than giving it to the shopkeeper? They had probably given them to him to get rid of him or he may have found them in a rubbish bin and gone in there trying to sell them. Was it a ploy to get me to buy him something else? Was he on drugs? Was he mentally ill? Was it a message to me to stop wasting money? Was it to show me that I have moved on from being unable to pass a beggar without giving him/her something and is that a good or a bad thing? Or was it just synchronicity?