(For my readers overseas, The Big Issue is a professionally produced magazine which is designed to be sold by the homeless, or those at risk of homelessness. The sellers are issued with a quota of copies to sell, with some of the proceeds being used to buy further copies at reduced prices in order to provide an income. There are similar entrepreneurial models in other countries, though by different titles. It’s actually quite a good read! There is a code of conduct which prevents sellers from being too … er… in your face.)
Gisshoo” he shouts, fixing me with a stare that threatens to root me to the spot. My eyes water, but I’m determined not to be forced into buying. Fortunately another pedestrian passes between us, and this breaks the spell sufficiently for me to engineer my escape.
I’m a bit earlier the next day, and though we pass one another on the way along Deansgate, he’s not on his patch and therefore not yet in gimlet-eyed, transfixing mode. In any case, he’s busy looking for spent fag ends on the pavement, and I hurry past with my head down.
The next day is Friday. As if he knows it’s pay-day, he’s even more threatening than ever. “Gisshoo” he bawls as I pass, making me jump. I avert my eyes, and I hear a “bah” of disgust behind me. My crisp tenners are burning a hole in my pocket, but I owe most of it to friends. It’s been a tough week.
He’s not there the whole of the following week, and I begin to worry. Maybe he’s ill; or perhaps been mugged. I reassure myself that perhaps he’s moved his patch somewhere else, where pickings are not quite so slim. My anxiety is tempered with relief at this possibility.
Then on Monday as I approach his patch, I see a dog sitting on a blanket. A sorry-looking dog, with mournful eyes but, I note with some satisfaction, not exactly skinny. I bend down to pat the dog’s head and it seems pleased. “Gisshoo” suddenly rings out in my ear, and I spin round, nearly falling over the dog, which growls at me. This diverts him so that he doesn’t notice my escape. Close, I think.
I go on a course for a couple of weeks, and the next time I’m hurrying up Deansgate the weather has turned colder and the dog is now wrapped in a sleeping bag, wearing a deerstalker hat with flaps that cover its ears. It looks embarrassed, but I feel comforted that someone cares enough to bother about its welfare, and that the dog is prepared to suffer the humiliation. I surreptitiously feel around in my pocket, but I’ve only got a one pound coin. Certainly not enough to buy a ‘Gisshoo’, and I don’t suppose he sells them in instalments. Maybe another time.
The next time I pass, I unwrap a couple of cold sausages meant for my lunch, and place them on the blanket in front of the dog. The man snatches them both up, sniffs them, and eats one himself, giving the other to the dog, who is drooling profusely.
Before long, I’m dropping a handful of biscuits that I’ve pinched from the bowl belonging to my neighbour’s dog. They’re bone-shaped, so the man doesn’t harbour any illusions about them being for humans and he just glares at me. “Gishoo lady” echoes along the street behind me, and I worry that having acknowledged my gender, we’ll probably be on first name terms before too long.
I know I’m going to have to give in. So the next day I extract a two pound coin from my purse whilst I’m on the bus, and slip it into my pocket. As I hurry up Deansgate I’m glowing with the warmth of my forthcoming benevolence, and the relief that I’m about to give in after all this time. Once I’ve bought one, I can pat and stroke the dog to my heart’s content. At least until the next “Gishoo” comes out.
He sees me approaching and fixes me with that penetrating stare. The dog halts mid-yawn and regards me with bated breath it seems. I feel in my pocket and grasp the coin.
“Gishoo” he shouts, practically in my face.
I hold out the coin with an embarrassed smile, and the dog looks up at his master cautiously, assessing the situation.
“Don’t worry about the magazine,” I say, suffused with self-satisfaction, “sell it on to someone else.”
I drop a couple of digestive biscuits on the rug and carry on up the street.
“Oi!” he bellows after me, “it’s two pounds fifty, tight-arse.”