(Posted this first on Papanihil, a now-defunct blog I used to contribute to – on 29 June 2005)
“Oh C’MONNN!” The driver in front of me hesitates as the light turns orange. Rearing to a halt, I yank up the handbrake and a woman’s waddling over, a wad of Big Issues clamped under one armpit, a limp bundle slipping sleeping from its swaddling under the other. My window’s half-open.
In one deft movement she hikes up low-slung child with elbow, thrusts out magazine with hand. I shake my head, smiling blankly; she jerks hers toward the May issue lying on my back seat, barely visible in the failing light.
“Hey M’am, that one’s too much old now!”
“Sorry, at the moment I really don’t have any money, Sisi – see, I’m working as a volunteer. I’m not being paid this month.” It’s so bloody cold with the window down.
“Ohh, okay,” she shrugs, arching an eyebrow (what incredible co-ords), “I understand… You working for free.” Her words puff out, grey and laconic, a dragon’s exhausted fumes. She smiles. “Hawu. But you too stupid.”
I grin back, stupidly. “You’re right, hey.” The light’s about to change. “Okay, byebye now. Next month, I hope…”
She steps back, the car bucking forward as I take my sheepish foot off the clutch just a little too quickly. At least I had a valid excuse.