I have just turned away the third sales person to ring my doorbell in a week. It is not very often that I respond to peddlers at my doorstep, for two reasons – one, my fear of the unknown assailant on the prowl in the garb of a salesman, and two, my abject incompetence to curtly refuse a person whose wages depend on the benevolence of those like me.

The former, based on theories floated by people that opening the door to strangers is an invitation to danger, has me tiptoeing to the door, squinting through the eyehole with bated breath, trying to get a view of the distorted form outside and figuring in my mind if that’s the typical look of an intruder. Alas, there is no way to tell the good man from the goon these days, and I stay put behind the doors, knowing in my heart that it might have been just another genuine guy desperate to meet his sales target.

I have always had a soft corner for the roaming vendors who brave everything from sun and sand to rain and rudeness just to take home an incentive, keep a job or eke out a living. My earliest memories of them include encounters with them on the roads and rails of Mumbai. I harboured an unknown sentiment for the persistent knick-knack sellers, just as much spite I had for the nagging eunuchs at the traffic signals, and I often bought little things that I really didn’t need, but could spare money for. It gave me a sense of having done a good deed. I didn’t forget to respect them for earning a living than getting it free.

The ubiquitous salesman has become a fixture in our lives. He now meets me on the road, handing out pens that often don’t work, incense sticks that give me headaches, children’s books that I won’t read and a host of other items that I really don’t need. I comply out of kindness sometimes, but it is impossible to be so all the time. I know that their subsistence depends on my decision, but I can’t take a new credit card every time a young banking executive makes a sales pitch; I can’t buy membership to aqua parks when I don’t enjoy them, I can’t have five different water cans lined up in my kitchen, I don’t need more than one newspaper to read.

It’s hard to say ‘No’ and watch their face fall, but when said with an apologetic smile, they accept it gracefully. Behind them I say a prayer and hope that they meet their target for the day.

The writer is a freelance journalist  based in Dubai.