Thursday, April 7, 2011

A difficult situation

In addition to evil old biddies who think my idea of a fun evening is to have my car breakdown on the sidewalk, there is another lady who frequently passes by my house. She is short with thin greying hair that is cropped to chin level. Her clothes are usually baggy and slightly ill-assorted and she speaks in a pre-occupied manner. She looks to be in her forties and despite seeing her regularly in the same place, I have often wondered if she has somewhere to live.

Regardless of her situation, she is always friendly and treated my stuck car debacal with a great deal more sympathy than the afore mentioned evil biddy. Once she told me she owned a yellow car too. I strongly suspected this was an equally friendly bare-faced lie.

This evening on the way back from work, I saw her not on my road, but near the highway. Crossing the road to head home, I greeted her and asked how she did. I recieved the usual vague answer of "fine, fine", followed by:

"I suppose I can walk back home with you."

I replied that of course she could, took my headphones from my ears and fell into step with her. I noted she was shivering, despite a large sweater and I asked if she was cold, adding that at least the weather had become warmer the last few days. She agreed and started talking to herself in a low tone with words I couldn't make out. We had not gone many steps when her pace slowed and she stopped.

"I think I'm going to walk the other way now."

I should emphasise that this road was near absolutely nothing. Walk twenty minutes and you would reach the cluster of houses and shops belonging to Westdale village, the other side of which the University was situated. Twenty minutes in the opposite direction would see you in downtown Hamilton. An incredibly slow pace alternating directions would see you nowhere, unless you had a particularly favourite patch of highway concrete.

"Are you all right?" I stopped and looked down at her. For the first time, I felt as if I loomed above her stooping figure. "Are you sure?"

She insisted that all was well and started shuffling off along the sidewalk again. Reluctantly, I headed for home.

Technically, I had done my duty, yet there was no doubt that it was within my power to offer more. The problem, of course, is that more personal interventions --for example an offer of money or an invitation to my home-- come with an associated risk. If I gave her cash, it might set a precedent for a continual donation of funds which would deplete my own resources and, if she really was homeless, would not ultimately help the problem. If I let her into my apartment, I left myself open to robbery or worse. Undoubtedly, there are social services who could be contacted, but I'm not at all sure what I could tell them if I called. I should make it clear that never once has this lady asked me for anything, yet self-preservation makes me keep my distance.

It's not that I feel my behaviour is wrong or even unnecessary. It's just damn unfortunate.


  1. Game Show ChaserApril 8, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    I hear you. I feel similarly with people who ask for money. I just don't know what they are going to use it for, and setting a precedent can be bad. I once avoided the money issue by giving away an unused transport ticket, which was great. Food is also good if the situation arises. It reminds me of my friend's grandmother, who avoided being mugged - twice - by offering to buy her assailants a meal and sit down with them while eating it.

  2. Wow -- I never would have thought of suggesting a meal while being mugged. Nice tip to try!