I was recently taken to a train station after speaking at a youth camp. I went to the ticket office and offered my card to pay the £9.60 single back to Teddington. The lady behind the glass said ‘your card has been declined’. I rang my bank but they couldn’t help as a recent hack had locked me out of telephone banking. They said: ‘Find an HSBC branch.’

I checked my wallet and was delighted to find a folded fiver and two pound coins. I returned to the ticket office but a £7 ticket would still leave me many miles from home. I set off for the town. The bank branch was closed. I realised I was attempting to fix two problems instead of one. I wanted my card reactivated, and £2.60 for the train ticket. I decided to focus on the train fare.

People are generous, I thought. I wasn’t in my trusty clerical garb but I was looking ‘youth talk fresh.’ I could hear a gospel choir (of sorts) and there were half a dozen outriders offering passersby an invite to their church. I thought this is where I’ll get my money. I was spotted and approached: ‘How are you today?’ I replied: ‘not so well I need £3, can you help me?’ He said ‘No, I have something that will mean
more. What I have is life changing!’ He was sincere but I was fed up and said ‘I need cash not words.’

I moved on to a group of three probably in their 50’s. They didn’t even let me finish my spiel. I felt a sense of panic rising. I knew I sounded like a con artist. How could I convince them? I approached two ‘young’ guys around my age, they smiled when I stopped them and one began to soften and reach into his pocket but a look from his friend led him to pull his hand out of his pocket and say he had no cash. Off they shuffled, heads down.

I saw a smart woman walking confidently up the road, I asked her. She said something quickly. I asked her to repeat it and she said more clearly this time: ‘I said get a job. Look at you begging on the streets!’ I replied: ‘I have a job’. She looked at me as if I were dirt before saying: ‘Yes, sure. I can see you do, it’s begging.’

She turned her back and clipped off. I felt embarrassed and crushed, I was locked in a nightmare. I walked past a couple of young women eating McDonalds. They looked like they might be ready for a hen do. To my shame, with the obvious enhancements, fake tan, bleach blond look, I judged these women but I was growing desperate. I turned back to them repeating my script, ready for the rejection. They looked like they knew how to swear fluently if pushed. Imagine my surprise when they smiled at me. The leader of the two said: ‘Sure I’ll help you babe, you’re so polite. I hope you get things back together…’

Without hesitation she reached into her bag and gave me £5. I offered to give change and she said: ‘no darling, keep it, its all yours.’ I thanked her, turned round and cried all the way back to the station. It was so amazing to be heard and respected, having been ignored by so many people. It was tough to be on the receiving end of both hostility, and then generosity. I don’t think for a minute the woman believed me, but she believed in me.

I have never had to beg before, it’s dehumanising, and I was surprised at how quickly I began to protect myself by becoming cynical towards my potential donors. We are all in this together. Let’s remember each other and find a way to show love. One day it may be you.

Azariah France-Williams