“Ma’am…” I say to the woman as she passes our table on the way to the cashier, and I do a brief, fluent pantomime which says something like, “We would like to buy you that coffee. May I have your check please?” After a moment’s pause, she relinquishes the check, folding her hands in the prayer-like greeting of India, which is also a pantomime-of-sorts in the circumstances.
“I wanted to do that,” says my partner, “but I wasn’t sure how.” I tell her that I know, that I could see her thinking it. The telepathy that passes between us during moments like this makes them all the more significant.
We pass many poor people on the street that morning – and every morning we are in India. Some of them ask us for money so that they might eat. If we happen to be carrying food, sometimes we offer it. Usually, we pass them without a word or a gift. That’s just how it must be in India, where the need is so vast and so omnipresent that one’s entire being would be consumed with feeding beggars, if one were to give into to each solicitation. (Incidentally, I do not at all mean to suggest that this would not be a perfectly excellent way to have one’s being consumed, if one had the wealth and the singularity of mind required.) So we pick-and-choose, usually without the benefit of any sort of hard understanding or information – the kind of thing that might pass had we even a hint of common language between us. Instead, we go by instinct.
This morning’s gift of coffee was something more than deciding that this poor woman’s need was one that we should meet. Her cup of coffee – her life that morning – was something beautiful that both my partner and I wanted to be a part of. She honored both of us by allowing us to pay the meager five rupee check, allowing the three of us to share in the contentment of the moment and the simple joy of a cup of steamy, milky-sweet South Indian coffee.