How is life?
At the moment my life is upside down because for 21 years now I have been trying to get another job and I have not been able to. 21 years is how long I have been selling Big Issue North for. I have seen many changes in that time, in Sheffield and in Big Issue North. I work very hard and I am still a good seller of magazines. I should get a pension from Big Issue North for all this time!
What keeps you doing it?
I need to. I have been looking for a job for a long time. I’m 55 now. I cannot get another job. My main problem is that I cannot read and write. I have worked in the past. I have been a chef and I am a very good cook.
Tell us about your pitch.
I have sold the magazine in different places in the past, such as Barnsley, Scunthorpe and Sheffield city centre, but I have been on my pitch in Crosspool for more than 11 years. I like it here because the people are so humble, so kind, and so decent.
I like helping elderly people carry shopping and sometimes people invite me for dinner or give me gifts. Sometimes they give me the money, but they don’t buy the magazine. I try to tell them to take it. Sometimes they give me money and they say: “This is for your family.” One man said: “I see you here all the time and you work so hard, you don’t smoke, you don’t drink, you don’t do anything stupid.” But some people go into the Spar shop near where I sell and they shoplift. I have stopped this happening in the past. One man tried to get a knife out and threaten me.
I said: “I don’t care about these things. If you want to knife me, you go ahead!” And he looked at my face and said: “My god, where do you come from!” I said: “I come from Pakistan! You think I’m scared by this? I have seen much worse.” The managers of the shop came out and they caught him. They gave me a reward for my service. Some people ask me why I am such an honest person, but I tell them that it’s important that people trust me when I sell the magazine, that they know I am selling the magazine for a good reason, that I sell it for my family.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My son is 15 years old now. He lives with me. He’ll go to college next year. He is doing really well at school. He did start smoking though and I caught him. I said to him that he should not be doing that. I give him money to buy food, to look after himself, not for smoking. I said: “You need to learn to look after yourself because I will not be here forever to do that. There are no guarantees. No one knows. Today it is sunshine but tomorrow may be rain. Life is a miracle, and it can be taken away at any time.”
I have tried to teach him how to cook for himself and look after himself. I cook for him, I clean for him, I do the laundry and make sure the house is clean. I say to him: “You are not the prime minister – you need to help out now and then!” Sometimes he helps, sometimes he doesn’t. But at the end of the day, he is still a child.
What do you hope for him in the future?
I hope he becomes a doctor or a solicitor or an accountant, something like that. He plans to study maths and computers. He is also going to look for a job while he studies at college.
And where is your wife?
My wife is still in Pakistan and I have been trying for years to get her over to the UK but it is not easy to do that. There are problems getting her a visa because I do not have a full-time job. I have not seen her for four years now and I cannot afford to get flights back to Pakistan to see her. I do not know how to help her come to the UK. I wish someone could help me. If anyone knows how to make this happen, please let me know!
Do you have a message for your customers?
I am so lucky to be here in Crosspool. I am so lucky for the support the people give me and my family and to have these people around me. I am so lucky to be in such a good community. I really appreciate everything from the bottom of my heart.