Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: THE UGLY TOURIST (07/09/15)
TITLE: Charming Beggar
By Leola Ogle
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Naomi eyed the young man who plopped himself down on the bench beside her. “Good morning,” she replied. Another disruption
“Bummer about the bird.” He flashed a dazzling smile. “I’m Shane.”
“Naomi.” Naomi shook his outstretched hand, wishing he would fly away like the seagull. Retired, she spent mornings sitting on this particular bench at Huntington Beach, watching people, making up stories about their lives, and guessing if they were tourists or local residents.
“What’re you reading?”
Naomi glanced at the book in her lap. She flushed. She never read, but always brought a book. Even a grandmother staring at people on the beach could be creepy, so she pretended to read.
“I haven’t started reading yet.”
“Oh, okay. Hey, do you have some money you could spare? I’m hungry.”
Naomi made note of Shane’s appearance. Longish blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, clean, tan and well-built – very handsome. “Sorry, I never bring money with me.”
Shane shrugged and draped his arms along the back of the bench. He tilted his face to the sun until the laughter of three young beauties snapped his head forward.
Local beach-goers. Locals approached the beach with matter-of-factness. Tourists had wide eyes and excitement in their step. These girls lived around the beach making them locals. Naomi pegged Shane as a tourist.
Shane called out to girls. They whispered to each other before walking over. After flirtatious chatter, Shane asked if they had money. All three rummaged in their beach bags and handed over several crumbled bills.
“Aren’t you going to buy something to eat?” It had been ten minutes since the girls walked away.
Shane chuckled and winked. “Eventually.” He glanced at her still unopened book. “What do you really do here since it doesn’t seem you read?”
“I usually have this bench to myself every morning, that’s what I do. Except Sundays when I go to church.”
Shane threw his head back and laughed. His laughter made Naomi chuckle. She decided she liked Shane. He reminded her of her grandson.
“I will leave you to your bench, church-going lady, and see you tomorrow.” Shane bowed with a flourish, his laughter floating after him.
Naomi stayed another hour, noting that tourists outnumbered locals today. She kept her eyes on Shane. He wove among people as the beach filled up. Some gave him money, others bottled water or food. Panhandlers were nothing new, but Naomi was perplexed because Shane didn’t look needy.
Nevertheless, she brought an extra donut the next morning. When Shane plopped on the bench beside her, she offered it to him. Thus began a friendship that surprised Naomi. Naomi dubbed him Charming Tourist Beggar.
“How do you know I’m a tourist?”
“I can always tell,” Naomi smugly replied.
Naomi was disappointed when Shane disappeared days later. The usual panhandlers and beggars remained; Sally pushing her dog in a stroller; Paul loading his shopping cart with aluminum cans he dug out of the garbage; Mario who just begged.
Then he showed up – matted hair, ragged scar on his cheek, scraggly beard, shuffling limp, and soiled clothes. He dug in garbage cans, begged, and had the audacity to sit on Naomi’s bench one morning.
“Humph,” she muttered.
He turned to stare. Those blue eyes looked familiar. It couldn’t be. “Shane? Are you Shane”
He studied her. “No, ma’am. Name’s Michael, from Louisiana. Could you help a fella out with a few dollars?”
The voice was similar, but not Shane’s. “No, I couldn’t.” Naomi turned her back.
He heaved a ponderous sigh, but didn’t move.
“Tourists,” Naomi grabbed her belongings and left.
Michael was there all week, but he never sat with her again. He did plenty of begging, though. Naomi smiled when she thought about how charming Shane was when he asked people for money.
Days later Naomi was surprised and delighted when Shane sat next to her.
“Did I tell you I am a tourist from Louisiana?” Shane smiled.
Naomi’s heart thudded. Michael was Shane?
“You’ve met my brother, Michael.” Shane pointed to the handsome, cleaned-up man walking their way. “I’m sorry we were deceptive. It was an experiment about how people react differently to two men doing the same thing simply because of their appearance.”
Michael sighed, seating himself between Shane and Naomi. “Shane spoke kindly about you, Naomi.”
Naomi’s heart constricted and a tear slid down her cheek.
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