He was there again, with mournful, puppy-dog eyes, greasy complexion, unshaven, crouched in the doorway of a boarded-up butcher's shop. Even though he knew he couldn't guarantee any money, he still asked anyway.
"Spare some change please?"
Beverley Hayes always had a pound coin ready, and she handed it to him with a smile.
"There you go," she said.
"Thanks love" he said, as she continued on into the coffee shop next door.
When she came out with her morning espresso she knew he would be gone. He always was. Every morning when she came to work, her twenty minute walk from her house would take her via a dual-carriageway underpass, beyond which was a row of shops where he would be huddled, waiting for her, waiting for his coin, where he would then leave and vanish further into the town.
Opposite those shops was an office block where she worked on the third floor in a catering recruitment agency, and she entered as she had done for the past five years, up the lift and into her shared office where Colin Jacobs was already there, as he always was. He was looking out of the window.
"I don't know why you bother," he said. "I mean, I know I get here early, but he gets there even earlier. There's no way he sleeps there though. Clearly he waits for you, then when he gets his money he disappears into the underpass".
"Probably hungry or something, going to get something to eat. Gone to get breakfast".
"Breakfast, with a pound, what's he going to get with that? He's not going into that coffee shop you go in is he? Can't even afford the entry fee to get in there. What is it for that anyway?" he said, pointing to the coffee she held, "about four quid or something".
"Four twenty," she said, settling at her desk.
"He knows he's got a good thing with you," he said, "Guaranteed money".
"If I can help him, and not just him, others as well, then I will".
"Who is he, anyway? Every morning I see him there, sponging off people who walk past. Then when you come along and give him his pound, off he scoots until tomorrow, back in position. Oh poor me I'm hungry and homeless, give me cash so I can buy drugs and booze and cigarettes".
"They're not all spongers," said Beverley, "some are genuine".
"Yes, I know that, but its the spongers, sorry, the bummers that give the genuine ones the bad name, and makes people not trust them, not want to give money in-case it's just some sponging waster who wants his next fix, who'll come out with some sob story about how he got his benefits stopped because he got found out cheating the system. Oh woe is me".
"I don't suppose you'll be giving any money to him then?"
"I'd rather put my money in a bonfire. At least then I can warm my hands and get more use out of it. I'm doing them a favour by not giving them anything. Motivation to get off their lazy arses and earn it, rather than just putting their hand out to ask for free money".
The following morning, he was there again, Beverley with her pound ready as she left the underpass.
"There you go," she said, smiling as she headed in to the coffee shop.
Colin was there again, early as usual, and he came quickly over with his hand out and a forlorn, sad look on his face.
"Spare some change there Bev. Oh please, pleeeease...I need to buy some petrol for my BMW. I need the latest phone. Oh go on". Bev tried not to smile, but couldn't help herself.
The following morning was one of those rare times when he wasn't there, and when that happened she felt a pang of concern, wondering where he was and what he was up to.
"Remind me who he is again," asked Colin, "I was so overwhelmed with worry for him the last time I forget who he is".
"To be honest," she said, "I don't really know who he is, even though I've been giving him the money for nearly two years. I asked his name once but I don't think he heard me, just went into the tunnel".
"Think I'll call him 'Pidgeon'," said Colin.
"Yes, if you'll notice, all pidgeons ever seem to do is scavenge. They're always on the lookout for food, like these fellers, always scavenging for stuff. You never see them doing anything else. Two years bumming his pound coin and then running off to spend it. Should I be jealous? Maybe he's saving up for a house. Or a dog. Actually, at least he hasn't got one of them. A bloody dog. Oh please look, I have a cute doggy, so please give money to me. If I said I'll buy some beefy chews for your mutt, while I go into the shop, what's the chances of them saying 'Nah mate, I'll buy them, just give me the money?".
"At least the dogs seem well looked after".
The following morning, there he was, as ever, looking up at her as she handed him his pound.
"Aw thanks love". She was about to ask him how he was but he got to his feet and scooted away into the tunnel beneath the road. She watched him vanish from view, wishing she could follow him, but then realised that even if she could, she wouldn't.
The following morning he was there as ever, and she handed him a pound in change. Twos and fives and tens.
"Sorry I haven't got a coin," she said.
"It's ok," he said, as he took it, then headed away, through the tunnel. Beverley walked in to the coffee shop.
The following morning, Colin was stood at the window as rain came down, and wind pushed it at a slight angle, meaning the butcher's doorway was barely useful to stand out of its way, and Pidgeon was stood as hunched up as possible, waiting for Beverley. He didn't have to wait too long.
He watched as she emerged from the underpass with an umbrella up, and saw her hand him his money, and said something to him. Pidgeon nodded, and disappeared into the tunnel.
"What'd you say to him?" Colin asked as she settled at her desk.
"That I won't be here tomorrow. It's my day off".
"Oh yes, I forgot. Didn't you say you were doing something?"
"Going on a five-mile walk with Jan along the coast, then we're ending up at a garden-centre where she wants to buy a bird-table. There's a cafe there as well so we'll probably have lunch". Colin nodded.
"How's she getting the bird-table home?"
"I think they deliver. Not sure to be honest. I'd better just give them a ring to make sure".
Colin watched the rain running down the window, watched the empty butcher's doorway, and people generally going about their day.
"....okay...thank-you, thank-you, bye" said Beverley, replacing the telephone reciever.
"They do" she said. Colin nodded, then went back to his desk.
Colin noticed the following day, there was no sign of the vagabond, and wasn't in the least bit surprised.
The following day Beverley got up late, and hurriedly prepared to leave, and when she approached the underpass she got her money ready for her morning espresso and a pound for Pidgeon. However, she found she did not have enough for both. She could buy a drink, but Pidgeon would have to go without his money. Or give him his coin and do without her morning caffiene fix.
Please don't be there, she thought, as she entered the tunnel. Please don't be there...yet, halfway through, she saw him huddled there, and he looked and saw her as she approached.
"Spare some change love," he asked, and Beverley reluctantly handed him his coin, and headed straight across the road to work.
"What's going on there?" asked Colin.
"It was one or the other today. Couldn't afford both".
"Aww...so it was either coffee or smelly tramp. Coffee or coin. How can you go without a coffee in the morning anyway? It's impossible. There's no way you'll be able to do your job properly today. Our poor clients will get yelled at".
Colin slipped on his jacket.
"Go on then," he sighed, "What is it? an espresso?"
"You're a star," said Beverley.
"Yes, I know," he said. "It's pity your favourite bummer has ran away. I was about to hand him a load of ten-pound notes. Oh well..." Beverley couldn't help but smile, and Colin left the room.
The next day, Pidgeon was there as normal. However, mooching around on the other side of the road, hands in pockets and looking at the floor was another vagabond of a similar age to Pidgeon. When she handed over her pound, she half expected him to come over and ask for change, but he didn't. She went into the coffee shop as normal for her drink and came out to find them both heading into the tunnel, talking.
"Better hope he doesn't start asking as well," said Colin, "and then his mates will turn up, and then their mates will turn up, and you'll feel obliged to give them all a pound. Soon there'll be hundreds of bummers, and it'll be like a zombie apocalypse round here".
"I'll just have to put my foot down," she said, hanging up her coat. "All I will give is a pound, and that pound is for Pidgeon. Pigeon...honestly Colin you've got me saying it now".
The next day was as normal. The other man was not there. Yet, the following day, Pidgeon was not there either. However, the day after, they were both back, but the other man again did not ask for change but kept his distance by the parked cars outside the office block. When she left the coffee shop they had both gone.
Late on in the afternoon, Colin was leaning back in his chair as Beverley was on the computer.
"I wonder," he said, "how Pidgeon would fare in a place like this. Imagine if he came in here looking for a job. I'm afraid I'd have to boot him out".
"If he was genuine," said Beverley, "Smartened himself up and got back on his feet".
"Absolutely," said Colin. "I'm not knocking that. I'd welcome it. I'm all for giving people a chance, but if he got up from his doorway and came in here asking for work, I'd have to get security".
"Well for all you know, he might have credentials for our kind of work. You don't know that he hasn't".
"We recruit for the catering industry. Can you honestly see him with a degree in psychology or medicine? and can you see him going to college or uni to get qualified?"
"No," said Beverley, typing on the computer. "He's just fallen on hard times, like so many others".
"If they don't get themselves hooked on booze and drugs and who knows what else, then they shouldn't have to beg. Half of them are smokers anyway, and have got dogs. So they've got some money at least. Your just paying them to feed their addictions. Here you go, have a drink on me. That's basically what your doing, and giving them money only encourages them to beg more".
"It makes me feel good though. I know it's not much, and I suppose I could do more, but it feels good to help out, to see the smile on their face when I give money".
"Ok, yes, you could do more. You only live what...two miles away, so why don't you give him the keys to your house. Let him stay the night, let him help himself to whatever's in the kitchen. Or at least get a shower".
She smiled slightly.
"No, as much as I like helping the needy, I can't say I would trust him that much".
"Needy?...I need a drink....I need a line of coke...I need a joint...."
"Aw come on...I think he's genuine".
"Right...ok..genuine? Let's meet up outside here at three o'clock in the morning, and we'll go around the town, and the ones we see actually sleeping rough in doorways and in tents, they'll be the genuine ones, and I'd help them in a second. What d'you think the chances are of seeing ol' bummer out there in a sleeping bag in a doorway?"
"You don't know that, he might be"
"Ok, he might be, yes". He then pulled a sad face and held out his hand to Beverley:
"Spare some change pleeese..."
In the morning Pidgeon's friend was by the cars again, looking at the ground, scuffing his feet, and when Beverley went into the coffee shop they both headed away in to the tunnel.
The following morning it was just Pidgeon.
"Thank-you there love" he said, and Beverley had decided to ask him a bit more about himself, why he was on the streets, but instead he just headed off into the tunnel, and she watched him vanish, then turned and walked to the coffee shop.
The following day, he wasn't there.
Nor was he there the day after.
Or the day after that.
"It's been four days," said Beverley, looking out of the window at the empty butcher's shop doorway.
"Don't tell me your worried about him," said Colin rifling through a filing cabinet.
"Well, something might have happened".
"Well yes, maybe he's made enough money now. Doesn't need you anymore. Living the high life on the pounds he's got from you. In fact you'd better put the telly on. Breaking news. Missing bummer. No-one cares Bev. In fact you're probably the only one".
"Yes," she said forlornly, looking around the area below. "I probably am. Poor feller".
"Poor feller! you know he'll be out there all day bumming. In fact he might have nicked someones bottle of cider and got beaten up. Might be lying in a ditch somewhere crying out for the only person who cares".
"Don't say things like that. He might be for all you know".
"Please Beverley help me..."
She meekly made her way back to her desk.
"Anything could have happened..." she said quietly to herself.
The following day he wasn't there again. However, his friend was, looking suspicious as ever, hanging around the parked cars as if waiting for no-one to spot him so he could try the handles. As soon as Beverley saw him, she walked straight across to him.
"Hi, what's happened to Pidgeon?" she asked.
"Whaa...who? Who's Pidgeon?" Beverley realised what she had said, and pointed to the butcher's shop doorway.
"The one who sits..."
"You mean Denno, Dennis....honestly that guy," He shook his head and smiled.
"He's a lucky guy," he said.
"Where's he gone?" she asked.
"He's gone to London," the man said. "London because that's the place to go when you've got a few bob like. You see you gave him a pound every morning didn't you?"
"Yes, I did", Beverley said.
"He'd always go the betting shop and put your money on horses or dogs or whatever, and sometimes in the machines. Every Friday though, it's lottery day, and he put the money on that. You see, the other day, he won. Jackpot. He had to split it with four other people, but he still walked away with 16 million".
"He's a millionaire," said Beverley. The man nodded.
"Like I said, lucky feller". He saw that Beverley was holding a pound coin, and she saw that he was looking at that and almost subconciously she handed it to him.
"Ta love" he said, smiling, then he turned and walked away, disappearing around a corner.
Beverley just stood there for a few moments, then slowly made her way to the coffee shop.
"No way!" said Colin, "You're messin....a millionaire". Beverley nodded.
"Put my money in the betting shop. Wins the lottery". Colin could see on Beverley's face that she was trying to contain disappointment.
"Didn't even thank you did he? Didn't even give you your pound back. Just left with his money". Beverley nodded and sat at her desk.
"If it's any consolation, people like him won't be able to keep hold of that amount money for very long. It'll get conned off him. Or it'll just be robbed, and he'll be back up here begging for another pound".
"Well, he won't be getting any more off me. You know, he never even asked me my name". Colin went back to his desk, knowing he had nothing to say to that.
".....well it doesn't matter if you choose another agency over us. If they offer you better rates then go to them then. It doesn't bother me. Make up your mind....ok, yes....so you'll stay. Good. Bye". Beverley put down the phone, and Colin was staring at her wide-eyed.
"Our poor clients are going to recieve short-shrift from you today, and I think I know who to thank for that. Pidgeon". Beverly sighed and sat back in her chair.
"Do you want to take the rest of the day off? I'll cover".
"No," she said, "What am I going to do? I'll just have him on my mind. At least I'm occupied here". Colin nodded, then Beverley's phone rang again.
The following day, as she walked through the underpass, she saw Pidgeon's friend crouched in the same doorway, and as she headed towards the coffee shop he looked up at her.
"Spare some change there love..." Beverley looked him straight in the eyes and pointed her finger at him.
"You, can fuck-off!," she said, and walked into the coffee shop.