Major: Creative Writing English
Non-WMU Program Florence, Italy
Outside a local pub, nine people scatter amongst the tables to escape the mid-January rainfall from the Florence sky. Not a single one the same, these people represent all different facets of human life on Earth. An intruder lurks- a true test to the character of these people. The outcast, a beggar yielding a metal tin to collect coins, makes her way around the restaurant’s tables to ask this group of people for assistance.
The first of the group, a successful business man worth more money than the rest combined, smokes a cigar in celebration of his own personal accomplishments. His suit, a piece of cloth he doesn’t dare allow a wrinkle to inhabit, is silky smooth. His €25 glass of wine before him doesn’t dent his wealth in the slightest. His smile is prevalent but his stained teeth tell a different story- a story his pride disallows him to surface to reality. His truest thoughts remain caged deep within his chest, never to be heard. Financial success has disintegrated the key to this cage; so here, he sits, smoking a cigar to keep that caged bird from singing.
“Spare change, sir?” the beggar asks the man in Italian. He doesn’t allow his eyes to shift toward the woman who has more wrinkles in her filthy attire than his clothes have ever possessed in his life. His success slowly creeps to his head, leading him to believe he is more of a person than the beggar. The sadness projects through her pupils through the pub- giving good reason for the man to avoid meeting them with his own. Guilt wasn’t supposed to come with this man’s wealth and success.
“Sir, spare change, sir?” she pleads, desperation latching her voice that lacks self-respect. In avoidance of her begging, he checks his silver watch costing more money than the beggars ever felt. He creates a justifiable excuse to exit the pub in his head- abandoning his overpriced wine glass and walking away. During his departure, he ignores both the beggar and his empathy. A loud “clank” echoes through the air and melts to the beggars eardrums. The familiar sound is all the beggar knows. The man makes his way to his penthouse overlooking the city, the “clank” of excess coins rubbing against one another in his pocket. A single tear surfaces- but she fights back- continuing on to the other seven hopefuls.
Approaching the second of group, she is met by another man, in another suit. A political man- he too was born with a clean mental slate with no conception of a societal hierarchy. But like everybody else, he grew into conformity- accepting the ideology that man is divided by power and wealth. Like the first, he too gets his tobacco fix here- smoking paper that costs the same euros this beggar requests. As the paper burns, the beggar prepares the only statement she has come to know.
“Spare change, sir?” she asks, beady eyes displaying her emotional turmoil. The man consciously ignores. Reaching into his pocket, he instead withdraws a cell phone- pressing buttons on a device the woman has never before felt. He quickly finds an escape from this human interaction, placing the phone to his ear and transferring a lighter from the pub table to his pocket. This creates an audible awkwardness as the lighter meets metal. “Clank”.
The politician exits his chair and waves down a taxi- leaving no trace of his presence but the remaining ashes of burnt paper haunting the beggar from the ashtray. Her eyeballs wet themselves- but just her begging, they are ignored and made out to seem like their existence is irrelevant.
The beggar heads to her next target- feeling a wave of hope at the sight of his religious clothing. The third man, a man devoting his life to God and to all that serve him, possesses nothing but a bible. He is unaware that the beggar bends her brittle knees and prays each and everyday. She prays for forgiveness. She prays for new opportunities. She prays for a better life. For years, she has prayed; and for years, she has begged.
“Sir? Spare change, sir?” she asks.
“It’s against the church and against my beliefs to fuel your lifestyle.”
“Food, sir. I’m hungry.”
“Don’t beg people for money. Beg God for guidance.”
Before she can respond, the man slams his bible shut and reaches for his pockets. “Clank.” He withdraws his hand- but instead of currency, he bares a business card. Across the top writes, “Ministry of God- Connecting You With the Lord Above”. The man exits the pub, leaving two lasting impressions behind- the card on the table, and the echoing clank: from his pockets. The beggar breathes deeply, trying to reject both tears and defeat.
She shifts her feet to the next man- a man wearing a button up shirt and tie. This fourth man is a professor reading peacefully in the corner.
“Spare change, sir?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any,” the teacher says. Before moving to the next person, the beggar waits for the man to finish his beer and pay. The pub owner soon delivers his receipt for the €6 drink. Handing him a €10 bill, he is handed two €2 coins back, in which he places in his pocket. Before the man can exit the pub, the beggar approaches again. “Spare change, sir?”
“I don’t have any,” says the professor- a man with the responsibility of teaching the youth. A man with a position of power- a man set to craft the minds of the incoming generation. As the man blows past the beggar, a consistent “clank” comes from his pockets with each step.
She proceeds to the fifth and sixth people at the restaurant, an American couple studying abroad for the semester. Both arrived this week, made apparent by their typical arrogance and their missing respect for the Italian people. The beggar waits for their conversation to end, able to understand each word they speak in English.
“-I don’t remember leaving the club last night.”
“I woke up with vomit in my hair and one of my shoes is missing.”
“I do remember meeting a party promoter last night- I think I booked a trip to Amsterdam on my emergency credit card,” the girl says, laughing.
“How much was that?”
“Like €500. Sorry dad.”
Amidst their hysterical chuckles, the pub owner delivers their €24 check for their four beers. The male flings open his wallet, only to restart his obnoxious laugh. “Yo I think you gotta spot me.”
“Didn’t you have like €200 when we went out last night?”
“Yeah I think I bought some coke. This is all I got left,” he says, pulling out a €5 bill. “My mom will send more,” he says, continuing his chuckle. The two pay the bill and walk toward the exit, meeting the beggar on the way out.
“Spare change?” the beggar asks in exquisite English. The guy waves his hand in annoyance and continues on, the girl tailing shortly behind. “Fucking bums- everywhere you go,” the guy says, laughing his way down the street.
Moving on from what just transpired, the beggar approaches the seventh person- an Italian man apart of the working class. He bares no suit and tie, no book or bible, just half a beer and a cigarette. The man, no smile or expression at all, is the face of the working class. A man who has dedicated his life to scraping by on society’s underside. The persistent beggar tries her luck.
“Spare change, sir?”
“Can I get the check?” the man asks the pub owner- temporarily ignoring the beggar just like the rest. The owner returns with the tab, one beer costing €6. The working man hands the owner a €5 bill and a €2 coin- being refunded a €1 coin. The man plops the coin into the beggars hand and abandons the pub without another word.
The pub owner now stands across the beggar, the eight person in the now vacant restaurant. “I can’t have beggars bothering my customers,” the owner says. The woman complies, set to leave the pub with her €1 profit. Before she is able to leave, a warm finger taps her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I say. “Here.”
I hand her €200 and exit the pub- the ninth and final person making up this unique group of people. Avoiding the American students I have been associated with, I make my way to write in the same city literature was born. Trying to defeat the stereotype I have naturally been placed, I avoid those like the American couple who exited the pub just before myself. To show Italians I am trying to learn, I avoid the student who dropped €200 at the pub opening his wallet- too careless to bother looking beneath the table he sat. Making my way toward Dante Aligheiri’s statue and away from the Americans that poison our reputation and create these stereotypes, I cannot help but smile knowing the beggar will value this money more than he ever would. On my way to write, I smile, knowing that this beggar no longer has to beg today.