The man that sells the Big Issue outside Trinity College has one brown beard, two blue-white tired eyes and five or six wrinkles folded down his cheeks.
His head and shoulders slope to the right so it seems as if he is suspended in the middle of collapsing. He never carries more than three or four copies of the magazine but the little bundle he has got he clutches tightly in his right hand, which he keeps raised in the air, like the Statue of Liberty and her torch. He has a vacant stare which usually points in the direction of Front Arch.
I bought the December issue from him. The cover featured a photograph of a spectacled man in a Santa Claus costume and inside you could read about the origins of the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and about a day in the life of Garda Pauline Sheehan.
When I approached him, his face flashed alive, as if a switch had turned his eyes on.
“Hello, I’d like a copy please”, I began redundantly.
I had two €2 coins ready.
“Yes, love”, he replied, huskily, “yes love. Just a moment.”
I handed him the coins, adding cheerfully, “that’s four euro for you there”, to compensate for the sadness I felt for him, as a long trickle of snot began to drip from his nose.
The Big Issue costs €3. Half that goes to the vendor.
He fumbled for change in the dirty corduroy pocket of his pants. I made a pointless remark about the cover so that he would think I hadn’t noticed the large tear of snot reaching his lips.
He dug slowly inside his pocket until he found a euro among a handful of coppers.
I thanked him.
“Happy New Year, Love. Happy New Year. Happy New Year to you”.
“And to you too!”
I came back for the January issue. It contained a feature about Ireland’s only real-life pet detective.
“Hello Love. Happy New Year”, he said.
This time I had the exact change.
“God bless, love. Happy New Year to you. Happy New Year now”.
Last week I walked past him again. I was sure he was watching me as I went by. I scolded myself for self-absorption. But I could feel his eyes digging into the side of my face as I passed. The sensation overwhelmed me and I turned back.
He was looking me right in the eye.
I retraced my steps.
I was impulsively apologetic.
“I’ve got that issue already”, I said as if I were guilty of something indefensible.
He grabbed my arm. I could feel the force of his thumb on a vein through my coat.
“I love seeing you”, he said. “I love seeing you go by. It’s lovely seeing you. Happy New Year, Love. It’s so nice when you go by”.
I thought about him later that evening; standing in front of Trinity College with snot dripping down his nose searching for a euro to give me back and it came to me that it was one of the most dignified things I have ever seen.
Ireland’s Big Issue is street journalism at its best and I hope there’ll never ever be an app for it.