Louis was new in Melbourne. He’s Chinese, and though he’d worked as a translator, he knew he’d struggle at Uni if his colloquial English didn’t improve. What to do? Young, on a budget and not wanting to bother his classmates and lecturers, he searched his big brain for a solution.
He just couldn’t afford English lessons with a tutor – rent and living sucked up his allowance, and he’d be paying his fees back forever, or so it seemed at the time.
“Money for a pizza sir?” came a muffled voice beside Louis as he ambled along Swanston Street. He turned around and saw a picture of misery. Dejected, rejected, the man must have been about 40, but looked way older. He had old eyes. He’d seen everything too young.
Louis scrambled in his pocket. He had a $5 note. Could he afford it? Why not? Then, thinking on his feet, he pushed his hand back in his pocket and bent down to the guy, who was sitting cross-legged on a filthy blanket.
Louis pushed back his trendy black-framed glasses. “Ah, listen. I’ll do you a deal right?” Louis got closer but the man’s stench threw him back. The man cocked his head. This was new. He wasn’t used to being visible. He shrugged, and waited.
Louis continued, “How about I buy you a pizza? A big one? Bring it here, and will you talk to me?”
The man drew back, astonished. Whoever wanted to talk to him? He frowned. There had to be a catch. Must be a catch.
“What’s the catch?”
“No, no catch. Well, I suppose it’s a trade. My English needs to improve in a hurry. I can’t afford a tutor, so I need someone to talk to who’ll help… “ Louis understood the man’s suspicion. He pushed on. “I’ll bring you a fresh pizza and we can talk. I need you to correct me, though. It’s your language, and I need to learn it. Wanna be a teacher?”
The guy wiggled. “Hmmm. You wanna buy me pizza to teach you English?” He just needed to get his head around this. Louis nodded.
“Whew,” the guy sighed, “okay, let’s give it a go. Not like I got pressing engagements!” He cackled at his own small joke.
Louis looked at him and held out his hand. “Deal?” the guy nodded. “Shake?”
The guy rubbed a filthy mitt on his blanket and proffered it to Louis, gently.
Suddenly, he didn’t look so old any more.
Louis arrived every afternoon, carrying the pizza, for a month. And his English? First class honours. Funny that. The man moved off the street and into a hospice. And Louis hopes, just hopes that he moved on to better things.
We all struggle looking for the solution to problems and issues, when sometimes, that solution is staring us in the face. We just have to see it, and think outside the square. And sometimes, just sometimes, it might be win/win. You never know.