The bad Samaritan
I’m not the most charitable person in the world and have been known not to suffer fools at all gladly, but I hate to see anyone in genuine distress or difficulty. If there’s any way in which I can help, I will, for all my frosty exterior, I will. I just wanted to make that clear to anyone who still bothers to read this before I go on.
I was walking through Walworth on Sunday. It was the first time I had been except for times when I’ve been on buses which have hurtled through it as if afraid to stop. Walworth is not the most amazing place on Earth. Sandwiched between Camberwell and Elephant and Castle, it has the air of a place without hope. Rundown Costcutters sit side-by-side along with chain stores featuring brand identities long since disappeared from carrier bags. The streets were dusty and filled with people who seemed to be trying to get somewhere else. Crowds centred around bus stops and when the buses did stop, they were already crammed with escapees.
As I walked towards Camberwell, I spotted out of the corner of my eye an elderly man talking out loud. I turned to him and he seemed to be speaking to me. He was standing quite a way back from the road and had his hand stretched out to me. I asked him to repeat himself but still couldn’t hear what he was saying, due in part to the traffic noise and the fact he was mumbling slightly. I have this weird thing where I get terribly embarrassed if I have to ask someone to repeat themselves and so usually pretend I’ve heard them. So after the second time of saying ‘I’m sorry?’ in the politest manner I could muster, I assumed the man was attempting to engage me in theological discussion (this happens to me a lot), said ‘No, sorry’ and started to walk away. As I turned back, the man looked at me helplessly and I scowled as I tried to piece together what he had been saying.
A few seconds later, I got my answer as I heard him call out to someone else. A quick look to the left told me that the man was standing near a pelican crossing. A feeling of doom and regret washed over ma s I realised the man was blind and needed help to cross the road. As I watched someone help him totter across the busy road, I stood motionless wondering how to make things right. Should I go back to him and apologise? I felt terrible but decided to leave the poor guy alone. I couldn’t think of a sensible reason as to why I hadn’t asked him to repeat himself again. I could hardly say ‘Oh yeah, I have this thing where I don’t like asking people to repeat themselves’, could I? I felt racked with guilt but decided the best thing to do was to stay out of the guy’s face.
I don't mean to over-emote, but the outstretched hand and look in his eye will stay with me for a while. Naturally, I then became convinced that some horrible fate was set to befall me as payback, so am now awaiting anvils to drop out of the sky or shopping bags to burst on the street. And a valuable lesson has been learned: don’t pretend you’ve heard what someone is saying and, most importantly of all, don’t go to Walworth.