I clamber down the stairs to Argiroupole metro station, heading to work, in central Athens. She’s sitting on one of the benches there, dark-skinned, dark-haired, probably a Roma, in her twenties. A long limp pony tail, a shabby red T-shirt, a flared flowery skirt, tattered flip-flops. An equally scruffy two or three-year-old boy is wringing out of her grasp.
She sees me and raises her open palm. ‘Please, madam.’ I flick into my skirt pocket and take a euro out, drop it to her palm. ‘Efharisto, efharisto,’ she nods. The boy grabs the coin and shoves it right into his mouth. The woman plunges a finger into his mouth and hooks it out. He whimpers.
Poor boy, I think. He must be hungry. I unzip my bag, take a Mars bar out and hand it to him. He grabs it, peels it off with his teeth and wolfs it down.
The train thunders its way into the station and squeaks to a stop. The Roma woman stands up and approaches a couple with a small girl near me, palm raised, mumbling something I can’t hear. They turn their backs to her and haste into the compartment.
I move to the edge of the platform ready to board. The Roma woman is so close now I can smell her sour armpits. Her skirt brushes my bag. I switch shoulders and keep my bag close to my body. I take a seat and place my bag on my lap. The small girl sits across from me, chubby and pink-cheeked, a red, velvety ribbon in her hair, a toy Smartphone in her hands. I smile to her and she smiles back.
I glance out the window. The Roma woman sits on the bench, pulling the boy to her lap. I watch as their figures blur away from me until they become a smudge against the white walls of the station.