As we stepped out of the rain, the aroma, the warmth, the piped music of the coffee shop conveyed a relaxed ambience. There were only two tables occupied.
“ I’ll get these while you find a seat.”
“ Thanks John, I’ll have a flat white,” replied Sheila.
“Same for me,” added Stuart.
“ We’ll go for the table with the bucket seats by the window,” Sheila said.
The barista, a stocky man, sleeves to elbows, welcomed me. “ Good morning Sir, bit of a wet one out there. What can I get you ? “
“Two flat whites and a Chai latte please. Bit quiet today ?”
“ Just turned nine Sir, always the same , a bit of a lull, the city workers have collected their morning drinks and toddled to their offices. I’ll bring yours over.”
“ Did you come up from Oxford this morning Sheila?” I asked arriving at the table.
“Yes, I’ve got three days’ work, but it’s only an hour on the train, so I go home each evening. It’s cheaper than staying in a hotel.
“ So what do you think of this figure of seventeen rough sleepers in the whole of the city ?
“It’s a miserable morning, Stuart and I have seen at least six obviously homeless pass by, while you were ordering the drinks John.”
“ And they reckon there’s only seventeen rough sleepers in the whole city, don’t get me started,” Stuart tutted. “ There’s number seven “. A young man sleeping bag rolled up under his arm passed the window
The barista arrived with our drinks, as he was returning to the counter the bedraggled soul, number seven, who’d been at the door darted in and grabbed a filled baguette from the chiller.
“ STOP THIEF ! “ The couple next to us shouted in unison.
The barista made his way back to the counter. The woman rose from her chair and went across to alert him.
“ Didn’t you hear us shouting to you that a tramp has stolen something from the chiller cabinet. Haven’t you got a CCTV camera. ? “
He responded in a soft calm voice. “Don’t worry, he does that a couple of times a week. “
“ Goodness me. You know and you don’t do anything about it !”
The barista replied in the same soft calm voice .“I do something about it, I put the cost of the baguette into the till so that it balances at the end of the day.”
The woman responded, “so you are encouraging him to steal ?”
The man had arrived to support his wife.
“ No, I am enabling him to have something he needs. “
“ He’s probably on drugs, no respect for others” the man countered.“
“ He may well be on drugs as you say, but he still needs to eat, to survive. Do you respect him ? Do you consider his dignity ? Do you know how he arrived in the situation he is in. How he copes with each day ? But I appreciate your concerns.
The couple returned to their table. Shortly after the barista arrived back.
“ Just as a token of my thanks enjoy these refills on the house.”
Surprised but accepting they sat and had their drinks. When they’d finished they got up from the table, thanked him for his kindness and left.
The barista came to clear up.
Sheila was nearest and spoke. “How do you manage to be so strong and clear and caring about the young man ? “
“Six years ago, I was where he is. I never want to go back there. I survived because someone cared.
I’m trying to catch him to tell him I can give, he doesn’t have to take.”
As he continued to clear up he found a folded ten pound note under one of the saucers.
“ There’s good somewhere in most folk you know,“ as he smiled at us.
Don Russell 11/7/2021