I’ve had a multitude of experiences that made me genuinely wonder about the more significant things during my three years in, the bigger cities. So, I can’t say this was the one that matters. However, this happens to be the most recent one. It is a couple of experiences to be honest which make sense only when taken together, like wine and cheese or peanut butter and jelly.
It was an uneventful moment on an uneventful day. I was writing something on my phone screen. As I typed and erased words because they weren’t coming out right, a young boy came and sat beside me. At first, I ignored him. It was a public place, and anyone can sit anywhere, I thought.
Then, I realised that the person wanted me to take my earphones out. If you’ve ever seen someone staring at you as you listen to music on your earphones, you know the cue I’m talking about. So, reluctantly, I took my earphones out of my ears and looked at the person who had almost invaded my personal space at this point.
“Do you work nearby?” He asked me. “No, I’m a student,” I nodded. He paused and then looked at me. I was not really in the mood for small talk so, I resumed my writing. As I was about to put my earphones back in, he broke his silence. “I have run away from home,” he said, “and I wanted to search for work here, but there’s nothing. I haven’t had a drop of water since morning. Can you get me some ice cream?”
That was a lot of information to process in the flow that he spoke it in and so, I took a moment and then asked why he’d left his home. “My brother and his wife are abusive,” he said. I was sceptical. When you spend enough time in the big city, and it doesn’t matter which one it is, you understand the warning you got when you left your humble home – “Don’t trust everyone; Don’t trust anyone blindly.”
Every single version of that warning echoed through my head, and yet, I wanted to believe that this stranger was telling the truth. I took a hard look at him. He wore a shirt, a trouser and had a backpack. There was nothing about his face that tipped me either way.
So, I figured, I’ll help this person out and handed him some money. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough for a decent meal. I could’ve taken him out for a meal myself, something that I prefer usually doing. However, at that moment, I just couldn’t stop what I was doing.
The boy, I’d prefer to call him, thanked me about five or six times, shaking my hand vigorously with each utterance. He asked me for my mobile number so that he could return the money. I said, there was no need for it. He thanked me one last time as he walked away.
The very next day, I went to the same place and sat at my same spot. That is routine. That is what I do. Then, I saw a familiar walk. One glance made me realise, it was a familiar backpack, and that made me realise it was a familiar outfit. I got up and walked around a bit to take a look at the person’s profile.
I was curious. It looked like it was the same boy. It was the same boy. This time, he walked up to another person who seemed like a college student. I watched as he sat beside the person, cueing for his attention.
The young man looked at him. I watched from afar as some conversation unfolded. The boy in question got up and walked away. This time, without money in his hand, without a token or six of thanks.
I walked to the person who fit my archetype, sitting and doing his stuff, being interrupted by children who have allegedly fleed their homes. I asked him if he knew the boy who just sat there. He disagreed.
It only took him three words before I completed his sentence. “Ah,” he said, “I was feeling guilty about not helping the guy, but if he’s here every day, I am glad.”
I agreed with him. My train of thought was rushing toward labelling this kid yet another con man in the big city of con men. I walked away in disgust, wondering if the little amount of money that I gave him the previous day was the cost of the faith in humanity?
Then, I came back. I walked back to the same area, almost skipping steps at this point. Instead of labelling this person yet another con man, I wanted to hear it from him. Had I enabled a con to happen? Was I even the first person this new kid, from the village, had managed to trick into giving him some money?
Maybe, he couldn’t go back to his village and when in need, he decided perhaps he’ll find yet another stranger willing to help him out and so, decided to visit the same place. He still wore the same clothes, I thought, perhaps there is some truth to his story.
All cons are rooted in reality, right?
I couldn’t find him anywhere. Had he managed to get his cash for the day? Perhaps, he did escape from an abusive brother. Probably, he did travel to the city for work. Maybe, he realised even if there wasn’t some work suitable for him, there was still some money if he managed to make the right guy twitch.
All of these questions and some more rushed through my head as I tried to look at it from all sides.
I realised that the feeling of mistrust and anxiety in the big cities is in fact, a feedback loop. The fact that I’ll never know whether the boy was honest or just a young con man is always going to make me hesitate before helping another person who fits his archetype.
That one person who was turned help down will find the first method, ill or not, to manage his life. Perhaps, he’ll trick someone else thinking that the city is so unhelpful and city-folk are void of empathy. At least, that is what a genuine person in a fix would assume if turned down help.
The circle will keep on repeating, and therefore, the warning for never trusting anyone in the big city will be heard perpetually.
It is a rather sad state of affairs, don’t you think?
But wait, you’ve had the cheese, and you’ve had the peanut butter so now, let me pour some wine and add some jelly.
A couple of weeks ago, I was crossing the most famous and one of my favourite foot over bridges in Noida. The reasons for my favouritism are perhaps, best explained behind the scenes. So, I’ll omit that irrelevant detail but not fail to nudge you.
As I made my way past the bridge, a boy who I usually see selling roses came up to me. He was limping; he still had the roses in his hand. “Rose?” He asked in his general tone that I’ve become somewhat familiar with. I nodded a no in my usual fashion and walked away, failing to register his limp.
It took me a second to realise there was something different in our everyday routine, so I walked back and asked him about the leg. He cried. He said, he stepped on a nail, and it pierced through his skin that afternoon and that it still hurt. I asked him if there was bleeding. He nodded a no and said it didn’t bleed, but it hurt because the cut was open.
I asked him to sit down and take his slipper off. He complied, resting the five or six roses he had in his hand beside himself. He lifted his foot and pointed to a place near his toes where he said the cut was alleged. I’ll be honest; I did not see a cut there. I applied a band-aid where he pointed and then gave him ten bucks. He thanked me, and I asked him to take care while walking.
It was an odd experience because as much as I tried to picture his foot, I couldn’t find the cut. I kept picturing the foot for a while, trying to understand what reason a little boy would have to fake a limp, tell a stranger he had a cut, accept a band-aid, thank the stranger and all of that for ten bucks that weren’t even guaranteed.
In my experience, children never really have a reason to lie. It is the adults that are adept at that department, sometimes even manipulating children to lie for them.
Then, a thought occurred. If the boy did, in fact, lie about the cut, then perhaps, seeing a stranger help him not with the money but also, some genuine concern would possibly leave a lasting impact on his memory. If he didn’t lie and there was indeed a cut there, he got a band-aid, and through it, he got help.
Perhaps, it was me reassuring myself. I won’t deny that but as much as the city has tried to take the heart out of me in the last three years, I like to be hopeful that people aren’t wrong, it’s all about the situation.
As long as someone asks me for help, and if I don’t have good reason to dismiss them, I will help them. Maybe, I am naive, but I will revel in that naivety if that’s what it takes. I’m not one to repeat mistakes.
Have you had similar experiences of your own? Start sharing in the comments section below. That’s what the box is for; it’s a two-way conversation.