He had seen her before; flitting among the people sitting eating their lunch in the food court. She would walk up to a table of diners, place a card on it, then walk away to another table and do the same. Then another, and another, then she’d return to the first table in the hope they would give her money.
He was always curious as to what was written on the note. She never spoke, if someone gave money, she would thank them palms together as if praying and give the generous person a small nod, monk-like.
He had wondered for a while why she never placed a card on his table, but he observed she always went for couples or families, never people eating alone. He could definitely understand the logic, couples were less likely to try and engage in conversation whereas a person alone may. Also, a couple by default could shame each other into giving some money.
Families were different again, especially if they had young children. He’d watch as parents were torn, some feeling it was a scam resisting paying while their children hit them with a barrage of questions; who is she? What does the card say? Will we give her some money? Why not?
He had seen this pantomime of unspoken challenges play out every day. It left him wondering though, what did the card say? From what he could see, there were usually three different responses by the patrons at the table.
The first, they ignored the card, did not establish eye contact and ignored her fleeting presence as if she was simply a butterfly and insect fluttering by. She would get no money from them.
The second would tilt their head, and quickly look at and glance at the card and look away. Not taken in by the story placed in front of them. Returning to their conversation. When the girl returned for the card, she would at best get a ‘No Sorry’ or a nod. In return, she would gesture thank you take the card and move on.
The third, and from what he could see, she had a 100% hit rate on this. The person would notice the card land on their table, pick it up, read it, reach in there pocket and pull out a note, not a coin. So this meant they were giving her at a minimum $5, is the smallest paper money in circulation.
In the weeks that he had been having lunch in the city, since moving in from the country he had watched her and was amazed by her persistence at playing her role in this performance day in and day out.
He could empathise with her, he knew what it was to feel alone, to be isolated, to be a person no one saw. He had not long left his home town for a job in the big city, he’d gotten out of there and was making something of his life. Yet he was stunned at how alone he was.
As a call centre agent, he would speak to 10’s if not hundreds of people every day, dealing with their tech support issues.
Yet when he went home of an evening, he would put on his virtual reality headset and disappear into the warmth of an alternate world, a world where he was the hero, and his online friends would at least talk to him and share his goals.
The girl was moving closer now, putting her cards down on the tables around him.
He just watched, she’d been here before and never ever put anything in front of him. She was close now; his fascination growing even further; up close she was even prettier, her pixie-like features forming, her high cheekbones, almond brown eyes bewildering.
She put a card on his table.
He watched as she turned away to another table, feeling the flush run up his neck, ending with a tingle in his hair follicles; his heart thumped in his chest.
With shaking hands and dry mouth, he picked up the card to read it.
‘Lord Hightower, it is splendid to see you in IRL. I’d love to meet you in your manse this evening, Evelyn.’
Lord Hightower looked up from the card expecting to see Evelyn returning to his table to collect on his charity.
She was gone.
His head spun, who? What? How did she know who he was in his virtual life, who was she?