There are moments in life when everything changes forever. So far, I’ve survived them. The time has come for a pause. How shall I continue? At home, the cat meows. She has never left the apartment. To eat and not to be eaten: that’s the motto she’s stuck with. Here comes the bus. I don’t have any change on me for the ticket. The door opens and I hop from the heat into the cooled interior, bumping into some passengers. Two beggars from my street. They have shaggy hair, they’re wearing vests that are way too warm, they hardly have any teeth, and their fingernails are dirty like false oligarchs. I recognize them immediately, because I look away whenever I see them. Here you go, ma’am, they say into the moment of fear. I swallow and find a spot, sharing the handrail with them. I avoid contact and convey friendliness with my nostrils. Nobody stinks. The driver takes note only briefly. If a ticket inspector boarded the bus now, he’d get three birds with one stone. I blush, because how do I know that the beggars are fare dodgers too? How embarrassing it would be if the two of them were on the right side of the law and I, who never give them anything, turned out to be illegal. I’m acting the role of a public transport customer who observes the rules. I’m quite professional as I look out the window onto the heat of the street. I don’t want them to know where I live. I should get off at the next stop or I’ll risk a ticket inspector getting on. It’s up to me. The door opens. Fortunately, the beggars are getting off. Now none of it matters anymore. Blood flushes my cheeks as the beggars, politely saying goodbye, leave my eye level. On the street, they limp under the burden of their roles, subdued by the heat. They hold out their hands to the first passer-by. To give or not to give, that is the question. With this text, they earn their fee.

Line 59A, June 10, 2019

Originally published in Die Furche, Vienna, 13 June 2019. 

Translated by Geoffrey C. Howes