She’s always there. The pain in her voice elongating her unsteady words. ‘Biggggg Issueeeeee’ she’ll suggest to each person as the first push of fresh-air excitedly licks them in the face on exiting the Galleries Shopping Centre. Occasionally someone might stop and buy a magazine, hand over some change, or gift a cigarette. But mostly it’s eyes down and apologetic grunting; maybe a slight extra push on the heels to help the guilt melt away that little bit quicker.
Except with me it’s different: when I walk past not a word – stony lost silence. It’s not that she’s taken offense to anything I’ve said or done. I’ve never reacted to her or had a reaction from her. Her eyes always look so far through me: a stare that may just circumnavigate the entire Earth. I should be grateful than I don’t have to posture an embarrassed refusal to her sales request, but I feel singled-out - soulless in the centre of Bristol.
And it’s not just once. I’ve actually done a circuit - gone back into the centre through a different entrance and back out again. Still nothing, not even the most distant pathetic flicker.
It wasn’t long after that I was in Argos; inevitable you might think, for someone needing to buy something from Argos. You’d be right with that ‘think’, and you would be patting yourself on the back like a mental person testing they have one. Whilst you did that you might have seen me typing my item number into the electronic touch-screen till. It was in stock, the hair clippers, and my card was in, transaction accepted – how happy I was to have something respond to me.
I clasped my numbered ticket in much the same way as anyone else would (except Kate Bush who would swing her hips rhythmically, holding the piece of the paper in the air, wailing painlessly). I waited for ‘154’ to appear on the screen so I could collect my purchase. I waited for five minutes, ten minutes. I went to the desk to complain. They said there was no such order in the system, I said how come I’d got a ticket then. They looked at me like a man who carries round numbered Argos tickets as a matter of course. I got angry. They said to try and order again, I said that you should only ever need one attempt at buying hair clippers and that if that one attempt doesn’t work out, then there’s no reason why a subsequent one would.
I left empty handed knowing that things were getting grave. I had to do something before the ground stopped accepting my footsteps and I fell into the burning core at the centre of the Earth. My only chance was with the Big Issue women.
The next day I exited Galleries again and saw her with her pile of magazines. I wandered slowly past giving her ample opportunity to offer me magazine commerce. Nothing! I did another lap and tried again - this time with massively exaggerated hand-movements, singing loudly to myself the music of KLF, ‘Ancients of Moo Moo’, but still my efforts were as pointless as February. I was feeling faint - the last splash of wax that constitutes my soul was silently burning into nothing.
I was going to wazz this situation right up (just like how Jamie Oliver would handle strawberries, a hand full of gravel and food-processor). Change the course of the universe and rebel against determinism. I walked up to her purposefully, masking the trembling with deliberate movement.
‘Big issue please’ I asked and she smiled and said thank you and I walked away renewed.
I’m back, and it doesn’t matter that the next time I walked past her she ignored me again. I can feel my pulse again.