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The Big Issue guy

February 9, 2011

OK, so at the moment I’m getting a train to placement in the city centre and everyday on the way home I pass this guy selling The Big Issue magazine (

Anyway, this guy is not one of the regular, run-of-the-mill taciturn Big Issue sellers you meet these days, and regardless of the weather you’ll find him keeping guard next to the railings at the exit of the station faithfully calling out “Big-Issue, Big-Issue Ladies and Gentlemen” like the old fashioned street sellers used to. Recently its been pretty cold, so he wears a coat under his fluorescent orange Hi-Viz with BIG ISSUE printed on the back, woollen mittens and a tattered black beanie hat pulled low over his ears.

Usually I’m in a hurry to get home so I rush past him, swept anonymously along by the crowd, but a couple of days ago I was running later than usual and found myself walking out of the station alone, face to face with the Big Issue seller. I don’t like to ignore the Big Issue guys when they speak to you, so when he looked at me and asked if I wanted to buy a copy all I could say was “Sorry, I don’t have any change” as I walked away.

Honestly I swear I’m not an awful human being, so tonight when I stepped down onto the platform of the station and felt a handful of coins jangle in my pocket as I ran up the stairs, I made sure I stopped on the way out of the station to buy a copy of this weeks Big Issue. This guy just happens to be the nicest Big Issue seller in the world so when I ask how much it is he looks genuinely mortified when he has to tell me that the price has increased to £2. I hand over two less-than-shiny pound coins; he thanks me, smiles a slightly gap-toothed grin and I ask how things are going. He replies, we have a quick chat; I thank him for the magazine, turn and start walking home. But as I do I remember something and suddenly I’m the one smiling and feeling like I just got a lot more than a magazine for my £2.

The thing I remembered happened a couple of years ago. I was walking past the train station, I’ve no idea where I was going but I wasn’t in a hurry. As I walked past the train station this guy came out of nowhere, obviously very flustered and a bit panicked and asked to borrow my phone. I don’t know what happened earlier that day, if I’d eaten a handful of happy pills or something, but for some reason I happily handed over my phone and waited as he frantically chatted away trying to arrange to pick up something for a job he was starting. As soon as he got off the phone he thanked me profusely and handed it back to me. I carried on watching as he turned to a girl who had seemingly appeared from nowhere and starting giving her instructions to get a series of buses and meet someone, repeatedly spelling out to her the absolute necessity of her meeting this person not just for this job but for the whole of their lives. I carried on with my day and thought nothing of it. Pretty soon I noticed that that guy had become the new Big Issue seller outside the station.

I walked past this guy a lot over the next few months. Sometimes I brought a magazine from him; sometimes I didn’t. I’m pretty sure he didn’t remember me.

About a year later I was passing the train station and I noticed the Big Issue seller talking to the girl he was with the first time I met him, only this time she was heavily pregnant. She walked away and crossed the road, pausing on the other side to scream “I LOVE YOU”, to the horror and embarrassment of everyone within earshot.

I realise this little anecdote is dragging on so I’ll cut to the chase. The reason I was smiling as I walked away tonight? It suddenly struck me that this guy – who is by far the nicest, most sincere Big Issue seller I have ever come across – has had a regular job that he’s very good at, supported a girlfriend and possibly a child for the past two years simply because in a moment of uncharacteristic madness I happened to lend him my phone. I found the long term repercussions of that single, simple act incredibly exhilarating. It is in moments like this that we sense the experience of something that transcends our normal everyday existence.

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