The next street was different again. The lively (drunken) city had gone. There were still many people around but they were of a different world. No-one was shouting. No-one was laughing. People were on the floor but they were not squirming about in drunken foolishness. Most of them looked close to death. It was not a long street and I could see its end up ahead. It was something to focus on as the darkening sky increased the sense of doom. I could hear every footstep as we hastened through this ghostly parade. I felt a tightening of the throat. Ice cold threads of perspiration were running down my forehead. Even though we were away from the riotous soldiers, I still felt uneasy. Everyone was watching us. Coming to the end of the road I saw the worst of everything. It was both pitiful and frightening. It made me question my own sense of compassion.
I became aware of a figure perched on a step up ahead to our right. My eyes had been focused on the light at the end of the street but as we came closer, I looked. It was a girl dressed in rags. I say rags because I saw no distinctive clothes on her-just a grey mess. She looked no older than my sister. She was holding a bundle of something close to her. By the time I had reached her, we were staring at each other. She was holding a baby-that bundle I saw was an actual baby.
“Would she sell her baby to the old man with the crooked cart?” The thought was too real to be just a thought. “It must have happened. Mothers would sell their babies so they could feed themselves.” I was annoyed with myself for thinking about it. On television, I had seen a lot of starving malnourished children. There were loads of images splashed all over the news. Charities would advertise for donations showing the faces of poor hungry infants gently crying, whilst a soft voiced narrator pleaded with us:
“What price is a child’s life?” They would ask. It was upsetting to see, but they were just pictures on a screen in the corner of the living room. It was easy to make them disappear with the push of a button. But there was no way I could make this image disappear. The only buttons I had were on my coat. I was going to have to walk past her-close enough for us to touch and smell each other. I was beginning to feel physically sick.
Mother and baby made no sound. She just looked at me. Here I was, in all my Georgian glory, worrying about nothing but myself, while she sat motionless, waiting. Her head turned to watch me go by. I had no idea what she was waiting for. I had no idea if that baby was alive. She seemed doomed to a fate of squalor and starvation. Yet I was there. I saw it but I just walked past. I had done nothing. I cannot describe my feelings of guilt. At school, I had gone out of my way to be kind to those I felt sorry for. But it was nothing. Ryan Green may be an insecure vulnerable young boy but there was no way he was going to starve to death on a street corner in London. His Lordship saw me looking but said nothing. He had been silent throughout this part of our walk.