Begs the question

BRYAN SHAW is a long-time Freo resident who often walks his beloved pooch Pippin on South Fremantle dog beach. His troubling encounter this week has left a few hanging questions about how we’re dealing with Fremantle’s “problems”.

THIS morning, walking the dog to the Post Office, I recognised a bloke sitting on the pavement that I had spoken with once before, several weeks ago.

After purchasing my wife’s scratchy ticket and pocketed her change, I went over and sat beside him; he appearing sad and dismal.

Pippin the dog had succeeded in bringing this bloke back to life on the previous occasion, he freely shared with us that he had lost his dog the year after his wife died.

Before the two could find the same happiness as they did on their first meeting, two police constables arrived, all decked out for business.

One was deeply depressed, overweight and sour in the face, the other a sensitive young man of average height, weighed down only by his belt full of self-protective equipment.

Seeing no need for backing up his partner, the embarrassed young officer wanders straight back to the squad car, leaving his boss to do what they have been trained to do when some distraught person phones in with their daily gripe.

Walking up to where we are seated, the constable flicks open his pad and with his legs wide apart, introduces himself to my neighbour with: “Get up…come over here,” and points to a nearby spot, well within my hearing range.

Unfolding gracefully like a beanstalk my friend does exactly what is required of him and stands slightly limp in front of the officer and attends to listen carefully.

When all the usual checks are done like identification, my friend is told that there has been a complaint and I overhear that he has been branded with begging. On both occasions I have been with this bloke I have noticed sensitive men and women dropping loose change into his upturned hat, but never have I seen him begging.

He is so sad and inward he barely says a thing to passers-by, just a soft “thank you” like any other appreciative person would do.

Constable continues…

“Have you ever been in trouble?”

Noticing the old fella buckling under the weight of the policeman’s interrogation, I realise that I myself am still confused about what constitutes ‘begging’ so address the constable.

“Officer, people must be permitted to give freely. It’s a part of exercising their compassion towards less fortunate people.”

“He’s begging!”

At that precise moment, a shopper walks by, dropping further coins in his hat that is still sitting beside me and continues on her way without saying anything, her head in the right place. Thinking that perhaps she thinks it is my hat, I am rudely awakened.

“These folk earn more than my salary.”

Finding the constable’s statement difficult to stomach, I give him the full benefit of my doubt and respond; “It is true that our police don’t get paid enough for the work they have chosen to do but your salary is far greater than what this man is receiving from the caring people in our community.”

“He’s begging!”

“Sir, if this man played an instrument, would he be left alone?”

“Anyone can beat a stick.”

“Sir, beating sticks is the beginning of music. We have to start somewhere.”

“That becomes a council matter then,” he says, letting himself off the hook, but then he adds: “Everyone has to work.”

Overhearing the officer’s remark as she walks by, a middle-aged woman adds to the conversation,.

“Many people are unable to work.”

Well, that’s true I thought and hugged Pippin to my chest.

If only he had a dog. Turning away from the constable my friend walks back, retrieves his bottled water and upturned cap and slowly leaves from the scene of a crime unaware that he has left Pippin and I sitting here, on his spot.

Walking away, he remembers all of a sudden and stops.

Looking back over his shoulder, Pippin and I hear a soft “thank you.”

Pippin whimpered.

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