I have some pretty heavy posts planned, but for now, please enjoy these three short anecdotes about strangers.
I’m seventeen years old and on my way home from school. I hate school, and actually skipped my final lesson of the day. But because I didn’t want my mum to know that, I hung around town for forty-five minutes and now I’m waiting at a very busy bus stop.
At the stop is an elderly man. He’s shorter than me – maybe about five foot tall – and he’s wearing a flat cap.
After around ten minutes, he looks and me and smiles broadly.
“You’d think they’d put more buses on at this time of day, wouldn’t you?” he asks me in a thick Yorkshire accent.
I smile back at him. “Probably not enough drivers,” I suggest.
“Well they should do better. Your lot don’t need to be cramped up like that.” He gestures towards a bus which has just been filled to capacity by school kids, leaving many others to wait for the next one, as it pulls away.
“Used to it,” I tell him.
“Never mind us lot,” he continues. “They ought to be looking after your young ‘uns. Then they wouldn’t be looking as tired as tha does. I don’t mean that in a funny way, I’m just saying.”
I laugh. “I am tired.”
He asks me what I do and I tell him about my subjects at school. Then, barely taking a breath in between, he launches into a long speech about how teenagers are the future of the world and yet the government does nothing for them, referring to a news story he’d recently read about a young woman who had recently gone backpacking around the world, and he’s visibly annoyed about the matter.
“No use looking after t’elderly if they aren’t helpin’t young ‘uns. If your lot had enough help, you’d be runnin’t place be now.”
He nods, satisfied that he’s put his point across well, and then tells me to stick at it.
I don’t. But I remember than man every time I catch the bus.
I’m sixteen, and I have half an hour before the bus is due on my way home from musical rehearsals. I’ve decided to walk ten minutes to the stop before, because they sometimes miss the one I’m at.
The problem is, it’s also quarter to eleven at night, in a shady part of town, and I’m alone.
As I cross the road on a difficult junction, a man catches up to me on the island in the middle.
“Hello,” he says confidently.
“… Hello…” I side-eye him.
He’s tall and skinny, and he’s wearing dirty clothing, and he clearly hasn’t had a wash in more than a few days.
“Where are you going?” he asks. He has that look on his face where I know he isn’t just being friendly.
“Home,” I reply neutrally.
He takes it upon himself to walk alongside me. “Where’s home?”
“I’m not telling you where I live.” By this point, I’ve already made the decision not to stop at the bus stop.
“Don’t be like that, I’m just asking,” he insists, but he’s well into my personal space. “How old are you.”
“Fifteen,” I lie loudly as we cross another road.
“Oh, you look younger.”
My stomach sinks. I’m sure I’ll never be able to get away from him.
And then a random woman intercepts. She looks just as bedraggled as the man.
“HI, YOU ALRIGHT, LOVE?” She asks at the top of her lungs. It echoes off the nearby buildings.
Startled, I reply, “Er… yeah, I’m fine. I’m just catching the bus.”
“OH, WELL WATCH OUT, THERE’S WEIRDOS ABOUT AND YOU’RE ONLY YOUNG.” She steps between me and the man, locks eyes with me, and lowers her voice as she leans down to speak. “Are you sure you’re alright? Do you know this man?”
I shake my head. “No, he just caught up with me a minute ago.”
“And how old are you?”
“Sixteen,” I mumble, “But I told him I was fifteen.”
“When’s your bus due?”
I check the time on my phone. “There’s one I can get in five minutes.”
“Okay. Get that one.” She turns around, forcefully stopping the man from stepping around her. “NICE TO MEET YOU, LOVE,” she says, looking at me over her shoulder. “YOU BE CAREFUL.” And as I walk away, she loudly asks the man if he’s alright and if he knows where he’s going.
My mum thinks the woman was probably an undercover police officer. It was such a bizzarre experience.
I’m twenty-two, on the tram back from a shopping centre. I’ve placed my medium-sized Primark bag at my feet and am looking out of the window with my earphones in.
I went to get a laptop, which I did purchase, but ended up leaving it at the shop to be set up and collected the next day.
Sitting opposite me on the tram is a middle-aged Indian lady. She has her sleek hair tied back into a loose ponytail and she’s wearing a red-brown cardigan.
As the tram approaches my stop, I stand and begin to walk away, but then I feel a tap on my leg.
I turn, and the lady points towards my shopping bag, which I’ve left in front of my seat.
I sigh in relief. “Thank you,” I say to her, smiling in appreciation, and pick up the bag.
She nods in acknowledgement and holds up a fist in the “strong” motion.
The next day, I return to pick up my laptop. I’m outside the main entrance, holding it in its box, waiting for my taxi because I can’t be bothered to carry it on two different trams and then up a hill to my house.
The taxi arrives, so I stand up to let the driver know I’ve seen him, and all the paperwork for the laptop tips out of its pouch onto the floor.
I roll my eyes, shove my phone in my pocket, and pick up everything I can see.
Just as I’m about to open the door of the car, a couple who are standing near the smoking area step forward and catch my eye.
“You’ve left one thing behind,” says one of them, pointing over my shoulder.
I look and, sure enough, there is the all-important code for the antivirus that came with the laptop.
“Oh, thank you,” I say to them, and quickly pick it it. “Thank you,” I repeat again as I get in the taxi, and they nod and smile.
That was just a few of the occasions where strangers have been nice to me when they didn’t have to, but there are so many others.
All the people who’ve run after me to return money I’ve dropped. Everyone who’s ever told me that my earphones are hanging out of my pocket. The select few people who’ve popped my provisional driving licence into a post box, or even through my letter box, or that one time someone went out of their way to find my apartment block and ring the buzzer to hand it back to me. Every single 50p that’s ever been given to me by strangers at the bus stop after I realised I was short on change.
All of these people were just going about their day, and didn’t need to help me. But they did. And I’m grateful.