I was supposed to meet Brenda on the end of the Rue de Rivoli by the Metro station, just where there is a crossing to the Louvre Museum.
"I just want to browse a bit in these souvenir shops."
She smiled that cute smile of hers and disappeared inside a shop that was clearly going to test our Visa card again. Why is it that souvenirs and mementos are so desirable and attractive in a foreign country, yet are just so much junk when you get them home? We had already agreed if we got separated where we would meet on the hour. In a city like Paris there is always so many interesting sights and scenes that waiting for someone is never a hardship.
I returned to the appointed spot at four o'clock and amused myself by taking shots of the street and crowds. Already I had got through so many that day I started to worry I might fill the memory chip before the holiday ended. As I crossed over the road at the pedestrian crossing I brushed against a bundle of rags in the gutter. I wondered what on earth it was. As I looked down I could see that it was in fact a beggar sitting there. When I got to the other pavement I glanced back. The beggar was in fact a woman, head bowed with just a small brown hand poking out from the collection of shawls and wraps that enveloped her body. I focused the camera and took a long shot back through the traffic, of her pathetic figure. Hardly anybody seemed to notice her and even less offered her a coin. As I panned my camera around, disguising my detailed observation of her, I was staggered to see that in a quieter moment with less people around she drew forth from the wrappings, a little baby. She unfolded her clothing and there in the midst of the street, suckled the child. The traffic roared relentlessly on around her. Tourists and Parisian's alike streamed by her, and there in the noise and the filth of the gutter the baby took its fill.
The mother looked kindly down on her offspring and her begging hand rocked up and down as though merely by such movement the passers by would come to her aid. I was overcome by emotion. I crossed back over the road again and dropped a one Euro coin into her hand. Almost imperceptibly, she glanced at the coin, from the coin to me, then nodding in acknowledgment, bent her face over the child again. In that fleeting moment I could see that the mother was a girl of outstanding beauty. Her high cheek bones, her well formed nose and the darkest of dark eyes were set on an face of unblemished dusky brown. Then she was gone, hidden in that bundle of nondescript rags. I returned to my post awaiting Brenda. Looking back to the girl's position on the roadside, I could scarcely believe that anyone was sitting there.
"What do you think of these?" Brenda voice sang out.
She was back with her prizes. I had to admire the silk scarves, the miniature street signs and the ubiquitous Eiffel Towers, right there in the street with all the crowds milling around us.
"Lets take the Metro back to the hotel."
She nodded agreement, while I wondered about the money we had just wasted, while the beggar girl sat in the gutter.
Brenda could see that I was a bit testy about her spending, and eventually drew out of me the reason for my mood. She cynically suggested that she probably was a professional beggar and she made a reasonable living. I could not believe such a thing, especially not from the few moments that I had observed her.
Later that week unbeknown to Brenda, I returned to that same spot. Brenda assumed I was just snapping away at street scenes, which bored her silly, considering them wasted shots. Having had a busy day shopping in "Au Printemps" she intended to write a few postcards at the hotel to unwind.
The girl was there again, in the identical position. It was much later in the day and the light was fading fast. As before I crossed the street then returned. This time I placed a five Euro note in her hand. She recognised it immediately. Her look was longer this time and there was a flicker of recognition, her other hand was drawn out from the bundles and barely touched my hand in return. There was no smile, no utterance before she lowered her eyes again. But when our eyes had met, I had an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude, pass from her to me, that I will remember for the rest of my life.