It beggars belief

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
How to supplement your pension.

Submitted: August 25, 2013

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Submitted: August 25, 2013

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IT BEGGARS BELIEF

The cathedral was built more than eight centuries ago when the city was nothing more than a few muddy tracks with houses on either side. As the centuries passed the cathedral had become the central hub of the ‘old quarter’, as the surrounding area was now called. The houses nearest to the cathedral were old, or built as if to perpetuate the atmosphere of antiquity. During the war that had occurred there with rubble strewn streets all round, it had never taken away the magnificence of the cathedral. Never in all its history had people stopped visiting the monument to religion and architecture. The exterior was as interesting as the interior. Statues of saints and the disciples were placed in positions on the façade depending on their importance, the most well known being at the top and larger than the lesser known ones at the bottom. The whole had taken two hundred years to complete from when the first foundation stone was laid to when it was deemed suitable to be blessed, consecrated, and opened to the public. The exterior was grey stone and therefore, the colourful stained-glass windows could not be appreciated from outside, it was necessary to enter through the dark wood doors into the cool interior smelling of incense. There, a rainbow of colour fell onto the pews and the stone floor and the visitors. The contrast was startling and charming and extraordinarily pleasing to those fortunate enough to enter.

 

In order to enter the cathedral four stone steps led up to the main doors. These steps were never without beggars. The hour was of no importance, there were always a few impoverished looking men and women, and even dogs, who spent hours waiting patiently for a donation. Those who it would appear didn’t speak the language had a large piece of cardboard with the legends: ‘Widower with six children and no benefits, please help’, ‘Out of work for two years can’t afford to eat’, ‘Mother needs an operation, no money, been sleeping rough since I can remember’, and so on. No one bothered much to read these messages, those who had a few loose coins in their pockets threw some into the hat or plate that was the receiver. The general idea was that as the beggars were sitting on the cathedral steps they were more deserving than any others.

 Many people went to the area to have a drink or eat in one of the many restaurants. The shops sold religious motivated objects including candles, crosses, and statues of saints. The cathedral attracted money and anyone who had a business there, right down to the beggars, knew where they were well-off working there.

 

Algar sat with his other companions on the steps. He was an elderly gentleman who had been pensioned off early from his job at the university. At first, his retirement had been fine and he had adjusted well to staying at home and going shopping with his wife, Betty, who had used him to drive her to far away shopping centres. Then she had got ill and he had spent years caring for her.

After her death, it seemed to Algar that he had time on his hands. The days dragged on and on. He was bored; he had no desire to end up passing his days in the public library like the other sad sacks he knew.

He moved into action and thought he would become a beggar. They never looked bored and they spoke to each other and the public who passed by. It was difficult to find a good spot for begging and he had begun his new career by sitting on the pavement outside the cathedral. When one beggar disappeared, or died, or who knows what happened to them, the next one down moved up into the empty slot.

Now Algar was on the top step. He had decided to make the cathedral his business centre as there were always a lot of people walking around and it appealed to their conscience to give away a coin or two.

Algar’s begging mates were: Chester, who was the oldest of them all and was also sitting on the top step. He had become a beggar when his business had turned upside down and had been declared bankrupt. With the little money he had stashed away and his begging cash, Chester managed to live well. Polly was Chester’s friend and sat there day by day to keep him company, she had a worn-out looking Labrador. The strange trio arrived together and left together. No one ever asked them questions about their private lives – that was sacrosanct.

Two young beggars had joined the group of pensioners. They were Josie and Denny, who also had a dog. They took it in turns to sleep.

 

On a dismal autumnal afternoon, Algar stood up and said to his fellow beggars, “I’m off home now, it’s getting a bit chilly and I don’t see that many people here. See you all tomorrow.”

“Goodbye, Algar, see you same time same place tomorrow,” Chester said, standing up too. Polly stood and pulled on the dog’s lead and the three walked down the steps leaving the top step empty.

Josie and Denny and their dog moved up to the top step.

Chester and Polly waved to Algar as he walked off in the opposite direction. None of them knew any more about each other than the donors of the money that kept them going.

 

The walk home for Algar took him about half an hour, during that time he thought about many things. Every day on his way, it was his habit to stop in at a small village store and change the coins for bank notes. That day was no exception.

A bell rang as he opened the door and went inside. “Good evening, would you be so kind as to give me bank notes for the coins, please.”

The owner was always amazed at how old-worldly Algar was. She took the plastic bag he kept his takings in and counted all the coins out beside the till. When finished, she opened the till and took out the corresponding bank notes. “Would you like a loaf of bread or a carton of milk?”

“I’ll take just the bread, thanks, there’s still some milk in the carton I bought yesterday, thank you. See you tomorrow. Good evening,” Algar said, and walked out of the store and went home.

The owner watched him leave. She felt very sorry that an elderly gentleman had to resort to begging in order to stay alive.

 

Algar appreciated the walk home after sitting down all day. It made him feel energized. The elegant block of flats where Algar resided would have come as a shock for any of those who had seen him begging on the cathedral steps. The lift took him up to the sixth floor, he got out and opened the door to number eighteen. Algar entered feeling the warmth of the central heating with pleasure. He had often wondered whether what he did was very clever, sitting out in all weathers, when he could be warm and safe at home, and more than likely bored out of his mind. Algar hung up his business clothes, which he had bought at a jumble sale before actually hitting the streets. Next stop the bathroom where he removed a stuck-on moustache and washed his face and hands.

Comfortable slippers on his feet and a warm dressing-gown over his clothes he went into the kitchen to prepare his dinner. In the morning, before leaving home, he had taken out of the freezer in order to thaw it out during the day, a piece of fish and frozen chips, which he now fried. He heated up a tin of tomato soup and sipped it while eating the bread. There was still some cake left over from the one he had made at the weekend, which he ate, accompanied by a cup of tea.

 

Washing up over, Algar sat down on the sofa and looked at his takings for the day. He kept his money in a piggy bank that Charmian, his daughter, had left behind on getting married. Algar stuffed the notes inside the piggy and then wrote down how much it all came to. He went to bed at half past nine, as he had no one to talk to and rarely watched television. A pile of books was on the bedside table, from which he took one about train journeys.

Just as Algar was settling down to read, the phone rang. “Hello, Dad it’s me, Charmian.”

“Ah, yes, Dear. How are you and your family? Well, I hope,” Algar said to his daughter.

“Yes, Dad, we’re all right here. I was just wondering whether you’ll be coming over to see us this weekend.”

Algar liked being asked, which he considered the correct way of behaving, “Yes, of course I’ll come. It’ll make a nice change and I’d love to see the children. Thank you for the invite. Goodnight, Dear.”

In her own home, a fair distance from her father’s flat, Charmian turned to her husband and said, “He must be very sad. He always sounds so grateful when I invite him over.”

“That’s your good deed for the week, then, isn’t it?” Jack, her husband, replied.

 

From October onwards the weather worsened considerably. The endless rain made any outdoor activity almost an impossibility. Football matches were cancelled, automobile races were written off, till the weather improved. Sitting around in cold weather was not the ideal way of making a few pounds. The beggars noticed the lack of visitors to the cathedral, and those who lived nearby didn’t hang about in the streets. Those who entered the cathedral to pray, exited opening their umbrellas as they left and threw a couple of coins into the beggars recipients.

 

It was when the situation was so bad, that Algar and his friends made only sporadic appearances on the cathedral steps. Staring out of his window on another soaking wet morning was just too much for Algar. He liked activity and in such weather there wasn’t much anyone could do.

He went into his bedroom and emptied the piggy bank onto his bed. The amount of money saved was more than he had imagined. Then he looked at his bank book, his pension had hardly been used, so he was better off than many others of his age. His capital was still stashed away, and that had never been touched.

Algar switched on his laptop and looked at the winter holidays on offer. Being alone, he thought it better to go on a cruise. For the next hour or two he sat surfing through all the offers. The prices were not off-putting, as Algar considered that he had earned the money sitting out in the inclement weather for so many months.

After a satisfying lunch Algar went back to his laptop and filled out all the details for a cruise that would take the voyagers to the tropics, from the first week after the New Year to the first week of April, twelve weeks altogether. He sent off the deposit and other details and sat back feeling very happy indeed with himself.

 

The last weeks leading up to Christmas were very hard for everyone due to two factors; the economy and the bad weather. Algar’s one consolation was the cruise to look forward to. In November Charmian rang him to say he was invited over for Christmas. “You will come, won’t you, Dad?”

“Of course I’ll go over to see you and the children.” Algar replied, already having decided not to buy anyone anything but to give them each a gift of a money order to be spent in the largest department store. That way he wouldn’t have to waste precious time in bad weather wandering around and feeling angry with himself for having done so.

 

One day, Algar dressed himself up in his business clothes and walked to the cathedral. He hadn’t been there for quite a while, ever since the really bad weather had set in. It was a freezing cold day, and as he approached the cathedral he saw that the steps were just that – steps. Then he looked around at the other begging sites and noticed that nobody had left their homes, whatever they were like, to risk their health. He pulled himself together and walked briskly home. He and they would no doubt meet up in the spring when it was agreeable to sit outside and watch the world go by and pay you for doing so.

 

On Christmas Day, Charmian and Jack and the children with Algar and a couple of friends sat at the table and ate, drank, and talked too much. Charmian had told her husband and children not to expect too much from her father as he wasn’t flush with money. They said they were happy with the money orders and they were, unlike others who have to return presents to the shops or online. They could buy just what they wanted and in the winter sales, too. Algar received the ubiquitous gloves and scarf, which he was happy with. The children gave him a pair of pyjamas and slippers, from his son-in-law a new camera, just in time for my holiday, thought Algar to himself.

 

A few days before leaving on the cruise Algar rang Charmian, “Charmian, dear, I’m going on a long cruise and so don’t worry if you call and I’m not around.”

“Dad, how lovely for you. Will you be gone long?”

“Yes, Dear, I’ll be gone for the winter, for three months in fact. Don’t worry I’ll be in good hands, the majority of the passengers are quite elderly, I think.”

“Goodbye, then, Dad, and have a good time on the cruise. Where are you going?”

“To the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Lovely and warm. Goodbye, Charmian. Please give my regards to Jack and the children.”

“I’ll do that. See you in three months, then. Bye, Dad.”

 

That night in bed, after Charmian had related the conversation with Algar, she turned to Jack, “How can my father afford a three month cruise on his pension? It beggars belief.”


© Copyright 2017 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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