The kindness of strangers

I'm always doing this - Willo always said "Don't make eye contact!" when I used to engage people who were on the street asking for money. But I do, and I did, and then we were talking. 


It's super cold tonight. Rain has been blowing across the city all day. Ice cold rain holding on to the last remnants of Winter. By the time I got to the bus stop it was fully-dark and another blast of wind saw the woman waiting there hunch her shoulders up.

At first I thought she was "a homeless" as Nathan from Misfits would say. She wore an oddly matched set of clothes and had several bags as well as one of those wheeled shopping trolleys. But upon closer proximity, it turns out she was just overwhelmed with, what turned out to be, Christmas presents.

I gave her a fright, you see. She startled when I sat on the bench next to her. Accused me of having "tiny footsteps". Never, in my life, has anyone ever accused me of that.

She told me she was cold, that she'd been waiting for her bus a long time. That she had been in another suburb - not close to where we were - doing her Christmas shopping. I complimented her efficiency. She said she had to shop early because things had to be posted. Her family was scattered to Belgium and beyond, you see. But her son was still at home, and he wouldn't be happy with her. He told her to be home before dark, to be home by 4pm. But now it was after 7pm because she had spent too long shopping, and then had boarded the wrong bus - hadn't got home, had arrived here.

And now we both waited. 


She said she was from Nuie and her name was Narleen - that mean's "darling" in her language, she said. The clothes she was wearing were a mix of traditional Pacific Island garb, and a white, puffed, hooded, parker. She'd come prepared for scattered showers, but not for what the day had ended up being. Her hands were so very cold as I shook her hand. I rubbed them between mine to get some heat into them, and she commented on how warm mine were. I told her I was well insulated, like a penguin! she laughed again.

She wondered where I was from. Me? I asked? From New Zealand! she laughed, though I'm not sure what was funny, or where the heck else she thought I might have come from. I think she was just a cherry sort of person - often saw the best side of a situation, I imagined.

Narleen had six children, all grown now. After six kids she had to call it quits on medical advice though she would have had a dozen if they'd let her. She didn't mind sex to make babies but didn't much like it just whenever he wanted to do it. She'd "chucked" her husband six years ago because he was a womaniser. Something, she says, that she didn't care that much about *really* but when he did it right in front of her.. well.. that just wasn't on. Now he comes around to see the grandkids, he says, but she knows why he really does. 

I checked my phone for the bus timetable - my bus was minutes away; her bus, more than 35 minutes. Couldn't she come on my bus? I asked, It went right though her suburb. But it didn't go through the right part, and her house was on the other side so no, she needed to wait for hers.

She asked me for my phone number. At first I thought she had asked me for my *phone* so asked her to repeat what she said. She wanted my phone number, she said, so she could ring up and "have a natter". I pulled a pen from my pocket and ripped a piece of paper from my notebook.

As I was writing my number I worried that I shouldn't be giving my phone number to her. I didn't really want her to call me, but by now half my number was on the paper next to my name as she watched me write it. I put that last digit of my phone number incorrectly. Handing her the paper she recited her home number and I dutifully wrote it down, but she didn't ask me to ring it or make any arrangements to stay in touch or anything, so I quietly tucked it into my pocket while she kept chattering.

It's so cold, she said, that she could almost pee! I said she shouldn't do that or she'd end up with icicles down there! She laughed again. I saw that my bus was coming and I asked again if she was sure she didn't want to catch this one. No, she said, she'd wait for hers and hugged me goodbye.

I boarded the bus and called a last farewell as the doors closed. I waved and we drove from the bus stop leaving the freezing old lady whose name means "darling" to thirty more minutes of waiting in that drafty bus shelter.


And I felt guilty. Terribly guilty for writing my phone number down incorrectly. For writing down a lie. For lying to that nice old lady. Guilty for not insisting that she come on the bus and maybe putting her in a taxi closer to home. Or suggesting I call her son and have him come pick her up or, at least, not worry about her being so late. How hard would it have been to let her "natter" to me if she called once in a while? I mean, really? Why hadn't I just been a nice person and shared my phone number?

...and yes, I have her number, and I could call her to make sure she got home okay, and to let her know I gave her the wrong number and correct my mistake. A nice person would do that.

But I won't do that, will I? Cos I'm the type of person who gives a false number, feels remorse for that, and then doesn't do anything about it!


What would you have done? Would you have given her your number? or made sure she got home safely?