On Saturdays, I've been doing short stories from my life in France. Today's title:
Are You REALLY Hungry?
On Thursday afternoons, the two girls met for a picnic in front of the Cathedral Saint André. It was there that Eleanor of Aquitaine was married in 1100 something. They usually sat on a bench in between the flying buttresses on the east side and the separate bell tower, Tour Pey-Berland. Since Bordeaux's Atlantic coast weather is mild, they had only once canceled because an inch of snow shut down the city. Twice they had found refuge in a café from the rain. Otherwise, since the previous September, the school girl on lunch break and the young mother with her stroller, had enjoyed their picnic without fail.
That March noon, the whole city seemed in a girlish mood. Flower-colored scarves were replacing the heavy woolen ones. People were less rushed, more inclined to walk. The sun shone bright as the girls installed themselves and started on sandwiches.And then the beggar arrived.
She took advantage of her age-wrinkled skin and three teeth, coming in close and putting her broken nails to her mouth. "Manger! Manger!" she whined. Her yellow scarf-wrapped head tilted in abjectly.
The girls fell silent. The young mother instictively put a foot on the stroller to bring it closer. Then, she had a thought; normally, she didn't have anything to give beggars. This time, she could do something. She turned and handed the old woman a plastic box with the second half of her sandwich. "Si vous voulez,vous pouvez en prendre...If you wish, you can take it."
Her school girl friend's mouth dropped open. The old lady lifted the first piece of bread and scowled. "C'est quoi ça? What is that?"
"C'est que des légumes. It's just vegetables."
The broken nails picked out the lettuce, left it in the box and scooped up the rest of the sandwich. "Merci." She crinkled her face to show her three teeth again. It might have even been smile. Then she wandered off to ask other people for money.
"C'était très gentille ça! That was very kind, that!" The school girl had started breathing again.
The young mother shrugged. "Boff! Si elle avait faim, moi, j'ai pas besoin autant. If she was hungry, me, I don't need so much."
In reality, she felt robbed. Her B.A. "Bonne Acte" good deed for the day, didn't seem to have attained it's purpose. Like a balloon you let free that suddenly gets shot out of the sky, falling to your feet. With so many hungry people in the world, she had tried to do a small thing to help. But it wasn't to someone who was grateful, or maybe not even in need.
"Si tu as faim, tu m'as dit, ok? Je te donne la reste de ma sandwich. If you are hungry, tell me, ok? I'll give you the rest of my sandwich," the school girl said.
The old woman passed by ten minutes later. If she's going to ask me again...I've got nothing left, thought the young mother. But the beggar crinkled her face into a smile again, rubbing her stomach, "Merci!"
Maybe that was the point: to do what you can for those in need, without being too naïve; to show a young person that they too can make a difference; to just share a bit of all the good you have been given. And maybe that lesson was more valuable than half a sandwich with just vegetables.
The young mother kissed her son in the stroller, turned her face to the spring-time sun and smiled.