Location: Ternes station, on line 2. Date and time: February, 12.30 PM. Outside temperature: 8°C.
The cold wind sweeps into the corridors of the station. Women in fur coats, their husbands in velvet jackets, all carrying food bags. At the bottom of the stairs that lead to posh Place des Ternes, Mirko has established his spot to beg for money, food and cigarettes. His dog, white Tara, sits by his side, rolling on her back like every happy dog would. Mirko is in his late twenties, quite handsome with his three-day growth, wearing khaki army coat and pants, and used boots.
He arrived from Austria four years ago when he decided to escape his family. He reveals that the problems he had with his father pressed him to leave. “I was tired of being my dad’s victim”, he feelingly admits.
With a couple of friends, he headed to Paris with no real idea of what they would do or where they would stay. After several months of couch-sleeping at some friends’, Mirko decided to take charge of his life by his own. “It was a nice experience to change apartments every week or so, but then I felt like I was disturbing my hosts”, he explains.
He then moved into a squat he had heard of through other vagabonds’ stories. Since then, he has been living there, “somewhere authorities still haven’t found” he jokes, and has met a lot of his current friends. When he wakes up every morning, Mirko does not have any difficulty to get ready for his day of begging. “My dog is with me, some friends often stop by the station where I am, even if some days seem longer than others, I am ok”, he confides.
But he also confesses that begging in this part of the 17th arrondissement can sometimes be disheartening. “Here people have money, look at them! Sometimes I feel they are scared of me and Tara!” In the baseball hat he uses for collecting money, there are only a couple of one-euro coins and some cents. “Young people, and more often girls, are less reluctant and give more easily” he describes. By his side, there is also a paper bag with a sandwich and a can of soda someone gave him earlier that day.
“Look, I have enough to eat for tonight, I have some money to buy Tara something too and my pack of cigarettes is still full, what could I complain about?!”
When he left Austria to discover France, Mirko was probably not expecting the situation he is in today. But no matter what, whatever the look residents of the area give at him and Tara, he is “not alcoholic, not stupid and [he is] convinced that getting out of this mess is still possible for [him]”. A lovely note of hope.