Of the countless encounters you have in your life, most just pass by. Some you like instantly, some you grow to cherish. But a few turn into resentments.
Has it ever happened that you were out and about in the city and fallen into a tough situation? But then a random stranger helps you out. With no expectations. They do so just because they are decent human beings.
That makes you want to be a better citizen too. Help strangers. Give the famously heartless cities a little warmth.
When a similar incident happened to me, a random stranger helped me out. No expectations, no requests. It prompted me to pay this kindness forward. And I did. Despite my low grasp of the local language, I went out of my way to ensure what they wanted to know was communicated to them, be it time, directions, help with crossing the road, or anything. I always wondered what harm could come from helping someone. Sadly, I got the answer.
Walking is something I have always enjoyed. It affords me the time to be alone with my thoughts, affirming my individualism. While most cities in the country are not the most walkable, some tracks surprise you. My walking route, the one I took to and from work, was one of them. Like a walk through the park. You hear the city on this walk, but its delicate elements, not crude ones. A walk so nice, you look forward to it.
On this walk from work one day, I helped out a man who asked for directions. He was on a two-wheeler and asked me for directions to a location I was well aware of. I guided him. He then asked if I would be willing to go there with him if I was heading in the same direction. I was. But I declined. I made sure he understood where he needed to go to reach the place he wanted to, and went my way.
It did not cross my mind to double-check.
I saw him pass by the bus stand as I waited for my bus. A couple of minutes later, the bus came. I saw him as I looked out the window, riding along. A bit scared, I gathered my cool. Warned by my instincts, on getting down, I entered a grocery store and spent 30 minutes there, with nothing in particular to buy, hoping that would be long enough for him to go away in case he was waiting. Looking back frequently to see if he was around, I left for my home.
Proper fear arose the next morning when I saw him again on my way to work. He asked for directions to a place closer to my work, and again if I would be willing to go there with him if I was headed in the same direction. I went on full alert, and sternly stated I did not know the directions. I then walked away. I took a longer, more crowded route to work, looking behind me every few minutes. I took a cab back home that day, giving up on my awaited walk.
I took a new route the next day, but I saw him again. On a common stretch. This time, he asked if I wanted to be friends. Having had enough, I shouted and asked if he was following me. Not expecting this response, he rode away on his olive green scooter. I took a cab back home again.
I took new routes to and from work for the following three weeks. My umbrella in one hand and my pepper spray within reach of the other. Changing timings daily. Looking for the route to take the next day became a bedtime routine. Fortunately, my workplace isn’t a stickler for 9-5 timings and I never appreciated that so much, till then.
The new paths I took, at different times, gave me a new sense of the space where I lived and worked. I understood my neighbourhood better and admired the scenery from the pace of a walk. I was updated on which streets had rundown homes and which had fancy ones. Which had more youths staying and which had a more elder population. I understood the lay of the land and found many shops I never knew existed. The buildings and parks they housed and the different trees that towered above them. Each smelled and sounded different. All the while also tagging, in which neighbourhood help would come quickest if I needed it.
I had to travel outside the city for a month after that, which laid to rest my trepidations. On returning I continued with a different path each day but stuck to timings. The relaxation I hoped to get from my walks, was undone by being on the lookout for him and his scooter.
I admit I probably might not have explored the area to this extent if not for this incident. But would I thank him for this exploration? No, I will not. I would much rather prefer to have an unexplored neighbourhood than feel the feeling of fear and being unsafe that I did.