Burning Calories and Starving Homeless — An Unequal Experience

Yesterday, after being shut off in an office all day, instead of going to the gym, I decided to walk part of the way home. I wanted to get some fresh air, but I also wanted to get some exercise and make sure that I burned the calories that I would have in the gym.

I started off from Baker Street (Yes, Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street) and had walked well over two miles when a particular homeless man caught my attention. I say ‘a particular’ because I’m sure that I walked past other homeless people without actually seeing them. Even with this man, I had already gone several feet past him when his presence registered. And at the same time I remembered I had a banana in my handbag.

A banana I was carrying because I would eat it in the gym before working out.

I gave him the banana. He thanked me. And then I was on my way off again. But a train of thought had started that left me uncomfortable. Here I was, actually going through the “trouble” of walking home, to make sure that I could remain fit, but also that I could burn off the excess calories from eating the food I didn’t need. I had a piece of fruit to use in the gym — again a place where most people go to lose weight they gain from eating the food they don’t need. (I am generalizing here — of course plenty of people, including myself, do go to the gym for fitness and other physical goals too).

On a day when North America was celebrating Thanksgiving, while Native Americans were still being ignored and neglected, this experience also brought home a feeling of gratitude.

I’m a part of the working class Britain. I am not rolling in cash or riches, and “If I win the lottery….” is often a wishful phrase. Yet, I never have to worry about how I am going to eat the next meal. Unless it’s because I’ve been too lazy to go grocery shopping. I don’t have to worry about where I am going to sleep. There is always a hot drink available. Spending £3 on a Starbucks Coffee is a thoughtless process.

While, around me, on streets of London — one of the most expensive cities in the world — the homeless remain, in their individually claimed corners. I grew up in India, and have seen my share of beggars. I’ve traveled enough to understand that it happens around the world.

Unfortunately, because it happens we also become jaded.

We see it as a part of the world.

It exists.

There is not much we can do about it.

So let’s not pay attention.

Because when you pay attention, like I did yesterday, you start thinking. You start thinking that things aren’t fair. You start wondering what their stories are, why they are there, and what happened to them. You start wondering how they feel, shivering in the cold while you return to your heated home.

They are no longer the lump sum “homeless.”

It’s one man, hungry, and cold, and so thin that he needs to eat all the extra calories I’m doing this four mile walk to burn. It’s a person — in circumstances I can’t even imagine being in.

He is a person.

They are people.

Each with their unique tragedy that brought them on the streets.

They, too, are a part of this first world country.

And that is the real tragedy of this inequality.