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The transaction

The homeowner is mowing the grass on the verge outside of the wall that surrounds his house. While he is busy doing this, he notices a beggar approaching up the road. The homeless man draws parallel to the mowing man and sits down on the opposite verge. He knows that the homeowner has seen him do so. He knows that he has “caught” the man outside of his sheltering walls. He knows that all he has to do to get some money from him is to wait. He is good at waiting: if there is one thing he possesses in abundance, it is time.

Talking of time, there are 400 years of history that provide the context of what happens next: the homeowner knows that he has been trapped. He could shout at the beggar, but times have changed; to do so would appear racist. He could shrug and pretend he has no money. But anyone with a house like his must have some money — if not on him, then inside. 

The tactic he adopts is to not acknowledge the presence of the beggar yet; he does not have to. He knows that the beggar knows that he has seen him waiting there patiently. And, if he stops mowing and decides to pay the beggar now, there is no guarantee that the poor man will leave. So he finishes mowing the small, uneven patch of lawn, then unplugs the electric mower. 

Next, he begins picking weeds from the flower patch growing along the wall. This is the beggar’s cue: he can help the homeowner, and in so doing, he will have “earned” his tip. This will give the entire transaction more validity. You must work for your pay. It will be more relaxed for both men, although the beggar, in all honesty, only yanks a half dozen weeds from the ground before he stops, indicating he has finished his “task”. The middle-class homeowner rifles through his pockets and finds some coins, which he proffers. They are accepted with a nod of gratitude. 

The beggar is a tall, wrinkled and dishevelled old man, gentle, genteel. He opens his mouth and points at it to ask for water, holding out a grubby plastic bottle with no lid. A mere whisper issues from his lips – perhaps he is a deaf mute. The homeowner recognises the universal gesture. He opens the gate, goes inside and, when he has filled the bottle with water and returned it, his visitor departs. He got what he wanted. 

The homeowner is happy too. The transaction is complete. His conscience is clear: he has helped a man in need, and it barely cost him. As he packs away the electric cord of the mowing machine, he notices a tiny pile that his visitor has neatly stacked on the freshly mowed lawn. Half a dozen weeds.