"Change? Any change, mate?"
Instinctively my hand moves to find coins,
But change for what? The question is half asked
Before I look toward the voice
And understand, too late.
A tangle of wool hat and whispy hairs,
Sand stubble on receding chin,
Pale eyes, deep-set in sallow skin,
But with a twinkle still,
And ready grin when 50p. appears.
I pass the coin, although I think it strange
That he should choose this street,
In this dull Tyneside town,
On this bleak drizzle afternoon,
To seek the daunting challenges of change.
"Thanks, mate, Ah've had a bloody awful day.
Ah just this minute pulled me hanky oot
And lost the tenner note Ah'd wrapped inside."
I smile my finest sympathetic smile.
"A crisp new tenner, must've blew away."
We stare down at bare paving stone,
In order to confirm reality.
There is no crisp new note, no fairy gold,
But, in our mime, we choose respective roles:
The streetwise loser and the well-heeled drone.
Why feed me with this crazy fantasy?
Why bother when he's got my 50p.?
Perhaps he really did believe
That fate had cheated him of what was his,
Because, for him, that's how it had to be.
And why ten quid? Is that all he dare dream?
Or did this modest make-believe provide
Enough to give a man who didn't have,
And didn't ask for, much, somewhere to hide
The fragile remnants of his self-esteem?
Change? Any change, mate?
What kind of change would he now wish,
If wishes were within our gift?
Would it be sweeping, bold and radical,
To shake the firm foundations of the State?
Our eyes meet as I turn to walk away,
And I well understand what he would change.
Places with me, that's what he'd change.
And though I sense the fairness of his case,
I think I'll leave it for another day.