Thursday, 2 December 2010

Be careful of strangers... or don't.

Or more accurately: Don't do silly things. I wouldn't want to fuel the cynicism of the world.

“Sorry, but I can't find anyone.”

“Hey, how can I help?”

I listened, half asleep, as he told me one of the oldest in the book. It was another sob story involving a sick loved one.

“I was picking my wife up from the hospital. Someone broke into my car and stole my suit jacket. It had my wallet, phone, everything- can you please just lend me enough for petrol. We're from Albury.”

“That's on the Murray, right? Albury-Woodonga?”

“Uh, yeah. That's it.”

He looked really agitated. His wife smiled from out of her head scarf, looking a picture of health. Their son sat there, in his little suit; he wouldn't have been older than 11.

I'd just left the exam hall, leaving behind my last ever engineering exam. I hadn't slept enough. All the world had a hazy shine to it, as I contemplated the end of 20 variable equations in rotating coordinate space. There would be no more modelling flow over bodies at changing speeds. There would be no more specifications of machine parts. It was over. There was only the world, the sun, the smiling public; I was free to bask in God's Creation, without thinking of all the notebooks full of information I needed to memorise, recite and regurgitate for the next exam.

I was vulnerable and naive and drunk on freedom.

“Look, I'm a poor student, I don't have much.”

“I can pay you back tomorrow, I'll send you a check in the mail, or put money in your account.”

I eyed the shiny, new, black car with what was clearly inadequate suspicion. Of course they had money, I thought.

“Hey not a problem. No hurry. I'm happy to help. I don't have much on me, but I can head to an ATM.”

“An ATM? Yeah, I can take you to one, Brother.”

At that point my suspicion peaked, but not enough for me to do anything about it. I hopped in and took a good look at the family. The husband has a grey chin beard that jutted out and not much hair up top. The wife had eyebrows plucked within an inch of their life. The kid looked nervous. He stared at me, wide-eyed, shaking a little. I put it down to the creepy moustache I was sporting and initiated small talk with the parents. He said I sounded confident about the exam, and he congratulated me. He kept calling me “Brother”. His wife suggested she might have seen an ATM a block away, and her husband suggested he knew a different one, but was going to go with the wife's idea anyway.

The woman handed me a notepad which had pages torn out of it, and a pen. She also handed me a scrap which had what I assumed to be her husband's name:

Abdullah Hamze

I put down my name and the address of the church where my mail gets redirected. She smiled and took it.

I stepped out at the bank and used the hole in the wall. They'd asked for $100, but I withdrew an extra $20 in the event that it wasn't quite enough.

I leaned in the car window and handed over the money.

“Don't worry about dropping me anywhere. I live a block in that direction. I hope things get better for you and your wife.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

I didn't feel anything but pride at my actions until I awoke the next morning. I might have subconsciously felt nervous about it earlier, because I recounted the story slightly differently to my sister, as some of the signs began to make me uncomfortable.

I even held out hope for a few days that a cheque might arrive in the mail.

Silly, gullible me.

The moral of the story is- don't ever lend a stranger money. There are always police stations and places they can go for assistance. If you do lend money, don't be under any false impression. You won't see it again. If you don't mind, and you think it will help, then that's your call.


On the flip side, investing in a conversation with a stranger can sometimes pay off.

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to have the privilege to spend some time with my cousin-in-law-to-be, Aun Qi. She was lots of fun and we had some wonderful conversations on life, the universe and everything.

One evening while I was waiting for my fiancée to finish at a work dinner, I took Aun Qi out to the Wine Bank as I knew her father was a serious wine drinker. We were shown out the back, where a row of tables ran against the building, sheltered from the rain.

Only one of the tables had any spare seats. At one end sat a solitary gent, looking despondently at his beer.

“Do you mind if we sit here?”

“Go ahead,” he said in a thick Irish accent.


The man snorted.

"Is there something wrong?"

"No, I just didn't think anyone used 'groovy' any more, except ironically."

"I suppose I do. Rather a lot, actually. Where are you from?"

"Well, I'm a local for the minute, I suppose."

The banter went on for not more than a minute or so. I asked Aun Qi what kind of beer she liked. She replied that she didn't really know. I asked the man what he drank.

"Jimmy Boag's is always good. You can't really go wrong there."

After some time spent deciding on what to order, and chatting about where the fellow's night might lead him- the man popped off. He returned quickly with two James Boag's. He sat them down in front of us and shook our hands.

"Thanks for the chat. The name's Toby. Have a great night."

He wandered off, leaving us basking in the glow of the amber.