I am at the French Bakery. It is in Karte Chahar, literally just around the corner from where Gayle was shot. I have been here several times in the last weeks. Each time I think about Gayle a little less. It is tempting to think that security has improved because nothing has happened for 10 days. But all that means is: nothing has happened. There is no real improvement. Our feeling of increased safety is absolutely illusory. It is important to remember that.
At the bakery, as I pull in, a girl spots me and runs to the car. ‘Meester. 10 rupees. Meester.’
I shrug her off and go inside. We need bread, other things. Things that we need. We need them. I have been told that I need them, and so here I am to meet that need. But. But. But what do we really need? Do I really need the can of lychees that I buy? or the fruit tarts for the kid’s lunches? or the buns? the walnut bread?
On the way back to the car, the girl, with the unerring accuracy of the terminally poor, spots me again, and comes running. I give her 10 Afs. Wordlessly, she takes it and turns away.
I have just spent more than 20 times that amount on food she will likely never eat.
I thought about this as I drove home. She will never eat a fruit tart, nor lychees with cream.
Does that mean anything? Is is wrong? Really wrong, or just conceptually wrong? Is it evil that I spent so much and gave so little? Is it evil, or selfish or a bit mean, or nothing? What is a better response to the poverty of the world? And poverty – what is that? Poverty is just a word, a concept, a list of issues and places on paper, places most people want to stay away from. Poverty is a noble cause, a terrible blight, a shocking reality. But rarely is it people.
Poor people are real. I met one, gave her next to nothing and drove on. I drove on to my lychees and walnut bread.
It means nothing and it means everything. Poverty is the sum of a lot of big things, but it is also the sum of a lot of little decisions that I make every day. And because we all make such decisions, poverty has long ago become a permanent fixture on the unreachable horizon, a cause we strive to but never seriously expect to reach.
I think that girl has a right to better than that.