Back in April, on a day like any other except it really wasn’t, I had an interesting encounter. I’ve been meaning to write this post since then, so I figure this week’s as good as any.
I had decided to drive to work that day because I’d planned on visiting a couple of friends that night to collect some cheesecake. However, as luck would have it, there was so much traffic on my drive home. We moved along at a ridiculously slow pace.
By the time I got near home and filled up petrol, it was getting kind of late, so I decided on a whim that I should have dinner before going to visit my friends (my original plan had been to collect the cake and then go have dinner). And that’s how I ended up at Taco Bell.
As I sat and ate my Californian burrito, the girl sitting a couple of chairs away leaned over and asked if I had an iPhone charger. I just told her I didn’t have one, and I thought that might be the end of it, but we got to talking anyway, and I found out that her phone was down to 3% battery, and she needed to get back to her place, but was afraid of going on the bus and walking through the streets at night with no phone.
I considered the situation: she doesn’t live too far away – just the next suburb over – and I had a car full of petrol now anyway. She seemed harmless enough (i.e. not an obvious threat) and also seemed genuinely concerned about how she was going to get home. Should I help her? I thought to myself. Should I offer to drive her home? Would she think it weird to accept a ride from a total stranger?
I asked her questions about where exactly she was staying (she lived on the Gold Coast, and was just visiting for a few days), and she must’ve gotten the idea that I was thinking of offering to give her a lift. Before long, I’d agreed to it, and once I’d finished eating, I drove her home.
In the meanwhile, we talked, and she told me that she was originally from Taiwan, and that she moved to the GC in January this year. She had been working at a restaurant, but struggled with the random hours, and didn’t like having to do so many nights and week-ends and random schedules.
She wanted to work with people, since she had studied hospitality in university, but wasn’t really sure what exactly she wanted to do. I told her a bit about pharmacy, and suggested if she wanted to try something a bit different, she could have a go at being a pharmacy assistant.
I also learnt that she has a younger brother and younger sister – both back in Taiwan; the younger sister still in school. She, herself, however, did not have plans to go back to Taiwan in the near future, hoping to stay in Australia if circumstances permitted.
When I eventually made it to my friends’ place afterwards, and I told them about this encounter, they both thought it was crazy that I picked up a random stranger and drove her home.
Since my friends had so much cheesecake, and it was probably inadvisable to let them finish it all on their own, I also took some to another, mutual friend. When I told this other friend about what had happened, she was likewise concerned that I was giving lifts to random strangers.
But what else was I supposed to do?
Sure, it’s not really my problem if she gets home or not. She could’ve called a taxi or an Uber (I’m pretty sure I suggested this near the start of the conversation, but I guess Uber was out of the question with her dying phone, and she probably didn’t have much money for a taxi…)
She could’ve just taken a chance on it – I could’ve reassured her that the streets around here were quite safe, and I walk through them all the time, at all hours of the day and night. (I mean, I’d consider it walking distance, or at least a “walkable distance”, but I know that not everyone shares my opinion on what qualifies as walkable. Still, she probably could’ve walked quite safely from the bus stop to her place.)
Maybe she would’ve found someone else to help her. Surely someone else could’ve lent her a charger, or helped her get the bus or get a taxi…
And what was I to do? Just walk away? Refuse to help her?
Sure, it cost me a bit of time, and a bit of petrol, and kilometres on my car, but she was thankful, and it was a kind thing to do. And what’s a bit of petrol or a few minutes in the grand scheme of things?
The next day, during my lunch break at work, I told a few colleagues about what had happened, and asked what they would’ve done. I was surprised but also not surprised that only one other person thought what I did was perfectly fine, and said they’d do the same thing.
In certain circumstances, fear is a normal, protective response – we wouldn’t survive if we never felt fear – but sometimes fear feels constrictive, and it frustrates me that something as simple as being kind to another person is questionable because of it.