I had a weird encounter on Sunday that involved some pound coins, Hammersmith and a Polish guy. In fact, the experience left me wondering whether I’d accomplished my good deed for the day, or been had.
Ok. It's a normal Sunday morning. 6am to be precise. I'm waiting at a bus stop in East London to take the bus into work, iPod in ear, and me mumbling every cuss word under the sun about why my shift begins at such an ungodly hour. Normal.
"How do you get from here to Hammersmith?" someone behind me asked. From the early morning sun, I saw a tall shadow form next to mine so I turned around. Standing next to me was a tall man, say 6’2” in stature wearing a white T-shirt and three quarter length shorts with trainers. Before addressing his question, I looked him directly in the eyes. He looked a little stoned. Wide-eyed. But I couldn't tell whether it was signs of sheer tiredness or not.
"You can take a bus to-" He stopped me right there. "No, by walking?"... Was he a crackhead? Seriously. Walk from Newham, East London to West London? Totally opposite ends of LDN?
"Erm, I suppose you could but you probably won't get there for another six hours." (Random guestimation. I don’t actually know how long it takes. Never attempted to make such a journey!!)
"Ok, that's fine, but how?" he enquired while taking out his tube map and a pen. I foolishly began directing him: "Walk all the way down this road..." then I stopped. Nah, this is silly, I thought to myself. “Why do you need to walk? Why don’t you just take public transport? I’ll be much faster”, I probed.
Then he explained to me how he was from Poland and had only been in this country for two weeks. He had fallen asleep on the bus after work and someone had stolen his bag that had his wallet, phone and personal documents in. He’d gone to a police station but they said they weren’t responsible to help him get back home.
“I ask a few people if they would give me some money for my ticket and they look at me like I’m asking for a million pounds,” he scowled.
I knew what was coming next. I counted down in my head. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. "Will you lend me money for my ticket?". "Sorry", I replied. "I don't have any change on me"
"Do you know any Polish people that could help me?", he asked.
"No. No, I can't say I do", I replied. Even if I did, 1)I have to get into work and 2)They won't appreciate me waking them up right now for whatever humanitarian reason.
My bus came from round the corner and as I signalled for it to stop the Polish guy walked away kicking the dust and stones on the floor in frustration.
Just then, my mind triggered back to before I left the house that morning when I was frantically looking in my bag for my house keys. To my delight, I came across some stray coins: four 50p coins, a two pound coin and a pound. Four pounds!
…. Anyway, as I entered the bus I shouted "Excuse me?!" The Polish guy turned around with a glimmer of hope on his exhausted-looking face. "Why don't you take this bus to Piccadilly, then you can get a choice of buses from there to Hammersmith?"
He replied: "Yeah, but I don't have money". I went into my purse handed him the coins.
"Here", I said. "Take, this. It should be enough to get you closer to where you want to go."
"Thank you but how am I going to find you to give it back to you?" He asked worryingly. Now, I don't know about you but I wasn't going to be stingy over four pounds, especially as I gave it to him from the heart with genuine concern.
"Don't worry about it". I touched in my oyster on the bus and went upstairs. The Polish guy spent about 3 minutes asking the bus driver for the best way to get to Hammersmith... Err, I thought I told him already?...I just put it down to his desperation to get back home. He got off . The bus drove off. Maybe he had opted to begin his journey back home by using the DLR. It was Sunday so he’d have a bit of a wait before the trains would be running.
Throughout my bus ride, I kept replaying what had happened. It must be hard living in a foreign country on your own, trying to get to grips with things and make ends meet.
Ironically, on my way back home from my gruelling 9-hour shift, the bus terminated roughly 1.5 miles from the stop I usually get off at. I waited for about 20 minutes for the next bus before agitation began to set in. So, in the 30 degree heat, I decided to walk the rest of my journey home. Got there about 25 minutes later (my petite 5’4” frame can beat anyone at power walking) without a single bus passing me! I didn’t get it. Why was I the one experiencing such torture?! KMT (Kiss My Teeth)!!
I suppose I'll just have to find comfort in knowing that my actions of compassion that day were done with good intentions and if the Polish guy wasn’t genuine, well he’ll get his comeuppance and karma will just take a juicy chunk out of his ass.