Poverty Wears Many Disguises
As I sit here in Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty, and Molly Malone's is letting it all "hang out" so-to-speak, I am penning this hub from this nice cozy cafe here. I am far from my place where I usually reside, with fellow hubber Cassy (Cheeky Girl) in the London apartment and our home comforts. I am in a strange city here, as it lies in the grips of a deep financial recession and its people are burdened by high taxes, levies and high prices in general.
Most people we have met seem more interested in getting their shopping in the North of Ireland than here in the Republic of Ireland, such is the price difference. So here we are seeing the sights and having some coffees. Cassy just popped out to buy a CD and in the meantime, I will explain the shock that led me to write this hub.
I have just witnessed a sad event, not something I am used to seeing. I am British, and we have a good standard of living there in the UK, despite what you may hear. But here, in this cafe in Dublin, a middle aged woman has just wandered in, and walked straight over to an empty table where a couple previously sat. On the table is a half-eaten sandwich and two finished coffees. The middle aged woman is well dressed, with an almost posh air about her, refined, though slightly frail. And she is sporting a large floppy shopping bag, inside which is another paper bag.
What she does next just stuns me. She never looks around, or gives herself away – looking for all the world like anyone who had a right to be there, like some typical person. She picks the half eaten sandwich up off its plate with bits of lettuce and meat in it, and stuffs the sandwich into her capacious shopping bag. Then she turns to leave the cafe.
I am bewildered. Dumbstruck. As she passes me, she sees me. I must have looked surprised, because something about my demeanour prompted her to say something to me. In a low even voice – she whispered – “...it’s for the doggy at home...” in what sounded like a refined Dublin accent and then she continued stiffly towards the exit, and out of the cafe, looking every inch the dame.
So, like – okay. Maybe I am paranoid. Maybe it’s nothing and there is some hungry dog at home waiting for some scraps of food, and it’s already on the way. Maybe she was a well-to-do spinster and did not want to leave those good scraps to be thrown out, and she was simply taking advantage of the situation. All those expensive clothes she wore lead me to believe that she was what she appeared to be. In the back of my mind, a little voice begged to differ. When Cassy returned with her music CD, I told her the story of what happened. She was surprised. I described it just as it happened, and asked her opinion. Cassy thought for a moment, and then suggested the woman was a fake. She was not posh at all, but hard up, and living on a pittance and money was so tight, that she was resorting to stealing scraps off cafe tables. And said the food was for her, not some dog. Cassy said a real posh lady would have asked the owners of the cafe if she could have a doggy bag for the scraps. H’mm, interesting! I felt the woman had been genuine and so we left the cafe and each of us had our different opinion as to what really happened.
We are meeting up with a friend of mine called Paddy, a student I know who is here for a year, and we head across O’Connell Street and wait at Clery, a huge store – and we are laughing and taking pictures with our cameras. It's pretty cold out, and we are glad of our warm coats. Some texts later, and Paddy Joins us. He is a nice young Irish guy, looking to get a good degree and get out of Ireland and get a job in Australia, or Canada or the UK. We are heading up across the city center and as we pass another cafe on the corner with Malborough Street, I suddenly see someone sitting in the cafe at a window. It’s our lady friend from the cafe earlier. Here she is in another cafe. Same clothes, same posh look, same face. And she is sitting there sipping a cup of tea.
I quickly tell Paddy and Cassy. We stand and pretend not to watch, but Paddy gives a commentary, describing what she is doing. Then he says the woman is eating something from out of a bag. I look over at her through the glass window, and sure enough, she is dipping her hand into the shopping bag, and taking something out and cramming it into her mouth. Cassy is amazed. I won't repeat what my girlfriend said. We are all amazed. She’s eating the damn sandwich from out of her shopping bag, and hiding it from view. Another person in the cafe is also noticing her. The security guy is looking right at her, and he just stands there and says nothing. Not a thing.
We leave the woman to her tea and half-eaten sandwich and continue on our way. It is obvious that Cassy was right. The woman was a fake posh lady. I look around at all the large Christmas lights that will soon be extinguished and removed and the festive street will return to its usual state. The colourful decor will be put away for another year. And soon, both Cassy and I will be heading back home to the UK and to our warm apartment.
I can’t stop thinking about the woman and her darn half-eaten sandwich. A few less wrinkles and she could be my own mother. I wonder what life has in store for her. The well-to-do woman who pinched a half-eaten sarnie from an empty table and ate it out of a shopping bag in some cheap and cheerful cafe nearby. Was that the highlight of her day? So many questions flood my mind. What was she going to do for dinner? Was there even going to be a dinner?
Poverty can dress itself up any way it likes, but it is still poverty. Cheap Chique, fake rich, fake nouveau riche, phoney Celtic tiger...whatever. Hardship wears many disguises – or wears none at all. It may appear one thing, but really just be another person living on the breadline, or worse. In many ways I have found Ireland’s rich capital no different from my own or anywhere else. Poverty can dress itself up to look acceptable and blend in with normal society, but it will still be someone suffering hardship. Beneath the facade or normality, there are desperate people who literally steal food off tables. It makes me feel grateful for the life I have and the good health and friends I have in my life. Some are not so lucky. Some people clearly struggle through life. I can find that hardship in the cafes and restaurants as well as the streets and pubs or anywhere else I look. Poverty wears many disguises indeed.
Copyright (c) 2010 to 2014 Cathy Nerujen. All rights reserved.