Dusseldorf Travel Blog› entry 30 of 30 › view all entries
She stands alone, in a river of pedestrians.
Her call is timed to match the ebb and flow of the human tide, as they make their way along one of the more affluent shopping streets of one of Germany’s megacities. Young and old, pretty and aged, they pass by the woman. Bedecked in designer clothing, each with a different destination in mind. In contrast, her clothes do not fit the scene, she wears a threadbare dress topped with a pullover which clashes against the colour of her attire. Her audience have their hands laden with branded shopping bags. It is another disparity, for in one of her hands, she holds a news publication called ’50-50’. It is an independent paper sold by the less fortunate for 1 euro, 80 cents – with half of the proceeds kept by the vendor. In her other hand, a white cane used by the blind.
Her eyes remain closed as she makes her call… “Zeite verfaufen, zeite verkaufen”.
The river continues its flow as the sun begins its southward descent across a sky silvered by the end of a short summer. As the wind picks up, she tightens her grip on her wares to keep them safe. Wares that nobody seems to want. The effort adds to the strain which already etches her features, for she must listen to the footfalls of her audience to time her calls. The effort it takes is clearly visible. She repeats the words, over and over, until her voice becomes hoarse. Blind, but not beaten, she continues until the sun begins to set. She is still trying, against
the odds, to earn her way through another day.
But in the many hours that pass as I sit and observe, no one answers her call.
Unable to watch anymore, I approach her and offer to buy a magazine. It is written in German, but I do not have enough of the language to correctly ask her to buy one. But I try anyway. I am sure I have made some grievous grammatical error, but she laughs in gratitude anyway. It is a strangely musical sound which comes from her lips. It somehow lifts the weight of adversity that marks her. She tells me, in broken English, it is her first sale of the day and that sometimes she sells nothing. As we trade, I ask her why she continues to sell.
She simply replies: “Everyone must try”.
I step inside to buy another coffee. As an afterthought, I buy her one too, wondering what it is about city existence that makes us all so blind to each other. In an environment saturated with branded offerings sold at exorbitant prices to moneyed consumers, it is a sad indictment. In the midst of this frenzied consumerism, there is something wrong with society if a fraction cannot be spared for those in the dark. I sip on my branded Starbucks beverage and exit the store with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. I feel branded and alone in the company of millions.
But as I exit the store, I stop and stare. The woman stands in her place, holding in her hands a Starbucks coffee cup. I am incredulous. Somehow, in the brief moment I was inside, someone beat me to it. I look around, but there is no one else to be seen. The good Samaritan is gone. I leave my coffee with her anyway and she smiles and tells me that it must be her lucky day.
Perhaps mine too. We are not alone after all.