Paul

“What’s your name by the way?” I ask it to a homeless man. He’s not quite homeless, he has a little room somewhere, but he sells the journal of the homeless every day at the Albert Heijn in my neighbourhood. “Paul” we shake hands. Paul has blue eyes and a grey beard. He always wears a black coat, a black marine-like hat, a light blue scarf and a few silver coloured necklaces, one of which pentagram shaped.

“I am looking for a job”. I say. In this new year I have got a bit nervous about my employment situation. I always believed I’d find one instantly because I speak some languages, have two master diplomas and did a lot on the side. Alas! It turns out that I have done so many different things that employers fail to see the coherence in my CV in the same way as I do. There is no single job I was made for, but it seems like they can choose the specialists they need. A battle that I, as a nature conservationist, am bound to lose in these times. “Just do something”. Says Paul. “I don’t ask people if they please allow me to stand here so that I can play my harmonica. I just do it.” There is a spark in his eyes while he smiles. “You don’t need people to judge you and ask for their permission to do something. If you want you just sit over there with a pallet and start drawing. And if someone passes by who thinks it’s good, you sell him the picture. You are old enough to know what you’re good at, just go and do it. Mother Theresa didn’t ask anyone if she could squat a house. She just thought : here’s a house, and these people need a house. And she gave the people the house.”

An awkward silence. This isn’t the answer I expected. I just wanted to show him some sympathy. Yet as it turns out, he didn’t need any. Now I feel accused of not doing what I want to do. I want to contest, but I can’t. Instead I look at him with a questioning half-smile. He caught me in the truth.

“Ok, well, I gotta go, I’m going to cook for a friend” I say. On the way out of the shop I give him a leaf of fresh basel. He loves the smell.

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