YOU CAN SEE his pale, alert face through the connecting door windows as he swings quickly along the aisle towards your carriage. Some of the commuters glance up as he enters and slams the door. Then they fix their eyes back on their mobile phones and newspapers and books. They can guess what is going to happen now he’s taken the stage.
(He shrugs and puts on a hangdog smile of self-recognition.)
Beggars want to sell you a clean conscience and, like other advertisers, they have to create the need if you haven’t already got it. They also have to cut the risk of being physically attacked. The train beggar is one of the best at doing both these things. He works his reluctant audience on commuter trains running through Blackfriars station into south and south-east London, either just before or after rush hour, when the carriages aren’t too full to hinder movement, and never at night.
After a long absence, he resurfaced briefly some months ago with a refinement to his routine: an overdone stammer, making his pitch last twice as long as before. And then no sign of him since. Maybe dead, or scrubbed up, or carrying on as before somewhere else, the long hallway of doors closing behind him.