three percent

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.

8 thoughts on “three percent

  1. I am so with you. We get so cautious and fearful and careful and safe that normal human contact is suspect and “not worth the risk.” But if you’re reasonably bright and evaluate a situation and its risks, it seems worth it to not stifle every instinct to be helpful or kind. I think you were generous to help her and true to your nature. Great post.

  2. We seem to live in times of constant fears. A mother has social services called on her because she left her 4 year old in the car for 5 minutes while she popped over into a store (car locked and windows cracked, not on a hot day). I routinely pick up the skaters who want to get to the top of the hill where I live: it’s always guys, young and well-mannered. And very grateful. My husband thinks I am looking for trouble but I am with you on this one.

    • Incredible that it only took 5 minutes for someone to call social services. I remember waiting in the car on many occasions as a kid, while my dad went to the shops for longer than that…
      I wouldn’t say you’re looking for trouble. Sounds more like you’re just taking a chance to be kind to someone.

  3. I get it but I do also get the fear (maybe just because I read about serial killers sometimes). I think I still would have given her the lift, or at least found some concrete means of being helpful before leaving her. I would never leave a friend to walk on her own at night.

    • I suppose it is hard to judge how dangerous a person/situation might be, so you have to balance the risk/benefit for yourself and the other person. But it is my instinctive response to want to help, even a stranger. Still, I do wonder what I’d do if certain things were different e.g. it was a large male, or she lived further away…

  4. I started to respond to your post and then a thought struck me…are you male/female/unspecified? That to me, makes quite a difference to how I, at least, interpret this story. However, I commend you for driving her home. I have given a stranger I met on the train a lift when there were no taxis at the station. I have taken quite a few risks as a young person that I have neither of my kids take but was helped by honest people.
    On the subject on the child left unattended in the car for five minutes. I’m a parent of two children and I never left them unattended for a minute in the car. My husband put the petrol in the car. I have friends who would leave their kids in the car while they went in and paid but that was also considered against the law. There were a few cases where cars were stolen from services stations with the children still strapped in the back and one died in the heat. I would also question how long that five minutes really went on for. I know my five minutes could well be 30 minutes. I have no concept of the passing of time.
    Times have changed since we were kids. I used to travel in a car basket and my brother even fell out while Mum was driving once. We also got left to roam around the bush and parks while our parents played tennis.
    It is hard to be eternally vigilant as a parent 24/7 but a moment in time can change a life forever for good or for bad.
    It’s interesting because this situation reminds me a bit of that situation posed in Christos Tsiolkas’s “The Slap”.
    Thank you for getting me thinking.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    • You are right, times have well and truly changed. What was ok 20 years ago is now risky at best. I don’t have kids myself, so it’s hard to say what I’d do, but I know I easily lose track of time, so I see how 5 mins could very possibly turn into 30 or more.

      I am female, in my late 20s. I actually don’t think she would’ve accepted a lift from me if I was male (She told me that she asked a guy for a charger just before, and he offered to give her a lift, but she declined. Not sure if it was just that guy, or she wouldn’t have accepted the offer from any male…) I reckon if she was a guy, I would’ve still offered to drive (unless he seemed aggressive/dangerous, but that applies for females too)

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