There’s a second before a stranger speaks to you when you know what's going to happen.
I saw her from a distance, it was a Saturday evening- it was dusk, the air was close and it was about to rain.
I was walking from the bus stop, the end of the route, to my house. I was content and apparently to the observer lost in my thoughts and the (loud) music in my headphones.
I'm rarely completely unaware of my surroundings and so it was that I may have looked in a daydream but I knew there was a man just behind me with a muzzled dog, a lady letting herself into the block of flats on the left and another lady walking quickly towards me, around 50 metres away to the right.
She was clearly a little agitated, lots of long what looked like wet blond hair was flapping against her white t-shirt and her stick thin legs were moving at a pace I could tell was just overstretching them.
As she came closer she moved her body towards me, without yet crossing the road. I knew then she was going to pick me to speak to, but I still didn't know why. I was a young girl on my own perhaps? People say I look friendly, maybe that could be why or possibly I had something on my face?! All of these were options. I didn't feel threatened or concerned really, but I wasn't entirely happy about the situation either- perhaps instinctively because I'm usually quite prepared, even pleased, to speak to a passer by.
I tried to walk on but I had to concede and take my headphones out. The lady was older than me but dressed as my age. She clearly did have wet hair and it still hadn't rained. Odd I thought to myself. I also noticed she didn't have a bag, extra odd for a woman.
She said she needed to get a bus (remember the bus stop is just behind me so okay). She needed the fare (I think everyone anywhere near London in recent weeks has been made more than aware by TFL that they don't accept cash on buses now... So not sure here). Initially it was £2 then it became needing to get a bus and then a train to Aylesbury (lots of detail) and £15 she was looking for.
I am tough minded but kind hearted, I listened on, she was clearly upset which is never pleasant, whatever the reason. She said her boyfriend had just thrown her out, she'd been in the shower (if all of this was a tale, the wet hair is still the curious part). She was trying to get to her Mother's.
Earlier that day I had been to see a film called Calvary- in central London- and I was now back out in Calvary of a kind, certainly beyond the city walls (zone 3 in tfl terms).
The film is about a good man who is a Priest. It very much provoked ideas In me about people who have a vocation to help others- and people who don't- and the price people sometimes pay for being good- and the choices they make, knowingly. I don't have the goodness of some but I gave the lady £15. I looked at her arms, there were no visible signs of drug use, I looked at her face and eyes, I don't think she was high, she looked affluent enough to not need to make up stories to get £15 but I was aware it probably was a story. On that day though I thought about it and I thought if I had cause to need £15 and no one would help me, what would I do, yes she could have gone to the police and no you shouldn't give strangers money but she seemed in genuine need and distress.
The lady kissed me and offered me her number but ultimately didn't give it to me, I didn't push the point and neither did she. I hope she wasn't going to buy drugs, given where I was and the designer type clothes she had on I don't think it was that. I'm still not really sure what it was she was doing or quite why I gave her the money- it wasn't an impulsive decision, I had time to think it through and I made that choice to sacrifice the £15- under the influence of film I think. Yes I was partly looking after myself, by then only she and I were on the street and she was worked up, but that wasn't the reason. I think I felt something was very wrong for her and she couldn't really say what. I hope I didn't allow her to do herself any harm.
My walk home after that episode was different, I was silent and quiet outside and inside. In life- and in London particularly- you sit, stand and walk so close to complete strangers all the time and you have no idea what is happening in their lives. They could desperately need help but who would know, they could be villians and how would you tell.
The photo is of Sligo, from their tourism website. Sligo features in the film Calvary- and looks very beautiful.