Look at them, long line of no-hopers. Easy to see itís the end of the week, dregs of society lining up for their weekly handout. Round and round it goes in the same old cycle Ė money machine, pub, food bank.
Pathetic individuals! I take their details as they come to the counter, false smile of compassion on my face, sharp eyes on the lookout for anyone double-dipping.
Donít know why Iím here. O sure, my mate Phil asked me, just one day a week, Mark old boy, we need you, wonít do you any harm. I could have said no, I suppose, but Iíve never been good at that, so I gave in. So here I am, filling in one day of my precious retirement time each week among these losers. Why donít they get a job like the rest of us? Why donít they help themselves, instead of being a drag on society?
I wipe the sweat from my face and take off my jacket, putting it well out of reach so it canít be taken by mistake. Someone brings me a steaming hot coffee and a giant bun. I feed my face as I attend to the paperwork on the long table.
Here comes Sophie with her snivelling crew, regulars. I fill in her details with one ear on the radio in the background. She is shaking with the cold. No, she says, to my query about heating. Her house is draughty, her fire is unusable; the promised new heating hasnít arrived. I send her to the clothing room and see her leave swamped under a huge woollen coat, the kids in new jackets. The buggy almost buckles under a bundle of blankets and a giant food parcel.
Radio news is full of the latest far away disasters; nothing there to interest me. Iíve worked hard for what Iíve got, not like this lot here, and Iím going to enjoy it.
The line seems never ending; people pass me by in a blur and collect their food parcels by the door. They are grateful, as they should be. Thank you Mark, you are so kind Mark, this makes a huge difference, Mark. Just as well they canít see inside my head.
The announcer says a big announcement is coming up. Wonít be anything to concern me, I shouldnít think, but Iíll keep an ear out anyway. Roll on lunch time when I can get a break. Roll on five oíclock when I can go home to the lovely dinner Marcie will have ready.
Could someone stop that door banging in the wind? Itís driving me crazy, and now hereís Tony is his torn jeans and dirty jersey shuffling in. Wonder what heíll rabbit on about today.
ĎHere is a message of great importance,í the announcer says in an anxious tone, Ďbrought to you by the Prime Minister.í
ĎWith deep regret the Government announces a world wide collapse of the financial system. Because of our massive overseas debt, all bank accounts are immediately frozen. All benefits, including superannuation, will cease. We are sorry we could not give notice of this serious situation. We apologise for the hardship this will cause. Our thoughts are with you all.í
What? What is going on? How could this be? Surely they canít be serious. Every ear is listening as the announcer continues, but Iíve heard enough.
ĎHere Phil,í I call, ĎIíve got to go.í He takes my place as I grab my jacket and race to the car past the long line of drop-outs. Who knows how they came to be in this position, but horror grips me as I think I might be one of them next week. How pathetic! Me and Marcie lining up for a food parcel? Not likely, but I am frightened. If I canít get money from the bank, what will we do?
I race home to tell Marcie the dreadful news and find her collapsed in a heap. She is giggling!
ĎWhat?Ē I cry, and she giggles afresh.
ĎMark,í she says, Ďdonít you know the date?í
I look at the calendar. April 1st. Iíve been had, and I fell for it.
Maybe, just maybe, I think later, that is just what I needed to give me real compassion in the food line, instead of my pathetic attitude. After all, it could be me.
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