... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

136: bus begging and self-delusion

In incident on the bus; a public scene.  Having just sat down at a busy stop with plenty more wrasslin’ for control of a seat, onboard steps the source of the scene.  A large round-'eaded man in a shiny padded tracksuit top seems on the verge of tears.

“Does anybody know Manchester; is anyone local; does anyone know the area?”  He is met only with the blank silence the British public is known for presenting when faced with emotional outbursts.

“Does this bus turn left?”
“Does this bus turn left?”
“Does anybody know the area?”
“Does this bus turn left?”

I consider turning to the stranger next to me and asking what one is supposed to do in these situations.  How does society dictate we properly deal with such outbursts, especially when the motivating factor is so mysterious?

He tries a change of tactic combined with exposition (possibly truthful, possibly extemporised):
“Can anyone spare £11.40?  Come on please, I’ll give you my iPhone or my gold chain and bracelet.  Please; I can’t believe I’m doing this,” the tears nearly ran down his round confused face.

Confronted with such a scene I had no idea how to react.  My initial prejudice made me put up the defences and passively-aggressively ignore him.  He isn’t really in trouble; he is a sponger, a blagger, a beggar, a dodger, a layabout, a wastrel...  Now after retrospect I think he was probably genuine and I should have handed him the less than 50p I had on my person.  Even if his story (as follows) checks out, inconsistent as it was, does it really matter?  Perhaps even if it had all been a complete bollocks he would still have deserved some spare change simply for being unstable enough to cause a public embarrassment.

“That’s what the police were on the corner; they won’t help me.  My wife had her bag taken, and we need £11.40 to get back to Blackpool,” he pleaded.  I’m sorry to hear that, but what was all that stuff about knowing the area and the bus turning left?
“Why won’t the police help you?” chimed someone from the back.
“It’s not in their area or something.  Please I’ll give you my iPhone.”

Gradually people began coughing up the odd 50p or £2, but the driver was waiting to set off, and the sorry gentleman’s public self-humiliation had gone on long enough.  He was fighting back tears, clearly distressed, and in the end it was the rest of us who should be embarrassed.  So uptight and unhelpful we all were, and so scared of piping up or getting involved, that we just sat there like speechless babies.

Had he been wearing a suit we might have been more inclined to believe his tale of woe; instead he wore tacky sportswear and we judged him as being full of shit, and a little threatening.  I say ‘we’, but really I’m just speaking for myself.  Who knows what the rest of the bus thought?  The lad who gave up £2 might be pissed off that he gave in to pleading and possible bullshit. 

Alternatively the whole event might have been a figment of my imagination.  It might have been me booing and bawling, ranting for spare change, while observing my reflection in the bus window convinced I was not me.  I might have projected the whole thing onto an innocent bystander, and have been wholly unaware of the distress and confusion I was causing.  Who knows?

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