| Some stories you
don't tell because you don't like the way they end.
I guess this is one of those. Some, you tell in
hope that confession will lead to redemption. I
guess this is one of those, too . . .
Just behind the Opera House on Sayat Nova Avenue,
the man stood sort of leaning against but not
into the large garbage barrel. He was propped
on his right elbow and was holding a piece of
bread in his hand.
In thousands of coffee shops from airports to
shopping malls the bread would come in its own
envelope, served up on tongs and priced to include
sanitary conditions. It would be called a baguette.
This baguette had been culled from a trash heap
and the man was using a knife to scrape greenish
mold off the crust. He had a plastic bag of bulging
whatever at his feet. He was wrapped in a coat
and wore a watchman's cap, even though it was
May 1 - May Day - and everyone else was celebrating
I took all this in on a single glance without
slowing my pace. It is what you learn, when you've
lived in the West: Look. Ignore. Move on. And
for God's sake don't encourage "them"
by giving money.
Living abroad changes perspective. Should.
I stopped 50 feet down the sidewalk, realizing
that street people in this city have inherited
the ill-repute of those Westerners are more familiar
with. Don't give them money; they'll just buy
drugs or liquor (as if we've never done either).
Those are here, too. But that was not the man
at that dumpster. Still, I didn't turn around.
Don't make a spectacle, I reasoned (but very likely
thinking "don't encourage 'them'").
I walked on and sat in a comfortable café
with nice music and ate a $2 sandwich made from
Six years ago I wrote a travel piece about Armenia
for US newspapers. I remember writing of my astonishment
at not seeing any beggars in such an impoverished
Times have changed. So should some attitudes.
One has . . .
Outcast shouldn't equal outlaw. Nor should honest
desperation bear the burden of illicit opportunism.
I've passed her probably 500 times since living
in Yerevan. She sits on Tumanyan Street with a
tin can in front of her folded legs. A 10-dram
note is paper-clipped to the can, as if her station
were not obvious. She never looks up, and I've
always been glad about that. Don't look "them"
in the eye.
On my way to the newsroom this morning she was
there, cross-legged in front of a night club that
advertised dancing girls.
She wore a faded gold scarf and a brown shawl
and still didn't look up, but nodded, when I put
money in her can.
It was such a self-conscious act that it shamed
I don't know what I was trying to buy. Whatever
I got was short of absolution. That's waiting,
I hope, beside a dumpster on Sayat Nova Avenue.