I was at Bromley South Railway Station on my way home waiting for the 22:20 fast train to London Victoria. The train had been delayed by 13 minutes by a tree obstructing the line a little ways down. A man also waiting for the train came up to me and asked me how long it took for the journey Victoria. Having made the journey many times I knew it was just under 20 minutes. He told me that he had a bus (coach) to catch at 23:00 from the bus (Victoria Coach) station. The expected arrival time of the train at Bromley South was now 22:33, arriving at Victoria 22:49, leaving 11 minutes for him to get to the Coach Station. He seemed anxious to make this bus, asking whether it would be faster if he took a taxi. I told him the train was the fastest way even though it was delayed.
He disappeared for a bit then came back and told me he’d checked with the taxi drivers outside how much it was to Victoria (£50 apparently) and how long it would take (a long time). He went on to tell me he was anxious to make the coach because he was going to Scotland to start a new job on Saturday morning. I didn’t totally understand what he was saying, he didn’t speak fluent English, but he said something along the lines of having searched 2 years for a job, and now he had found this one he wanted to be there on time for his first day at 8am on Saturday.
We stood for a while without saying anything. I was trying calculate whether it was possible to make the connection, Victoria Train Station to Victoria Coach Station, in 10 minutes. I thought, if he knew how to get to the Coach Station then he’d probably make it, so I asked him if he knew where he was going when he got to Victoria. He told me he did. I found out a bit later that he actually didn’t and the ambiguity in the question meant he took it to mean “do you know where you’re heading to when you get to Victoria?” (answer: Coach Station), and not what I intended it to mean, which was “do you know the way to the Coach Station?”. This didn’t come to my mind until we were on the train.
The train arrived at the revised time and arrived into Victoria at 22:50 – 10 (probably 9) minutes to go. We sat separately on the train but alighted the train through the same door. I wasn’t convinced he knew where he was going now, so I kept an eye on him as the crowd moved towards the exit. Once we were out of the ticket gates sure enough he was heading in the wrong direction. I called out to him and made sure he was looking for a National Express service and told him to follow me. We jogged through Victoria Station, out the side exit into a drizzle, and then up Buckingham Palace Road towards the Coach Station. We arrived at the station at 22:56 and found his coach. He had made it! a victory that meant an overnight coach journey to Scotland… but also on time to a new job he seemed very grateful to have gotten.
He was also very grateful for my help and took down my phone number. He thanked me and I wished him well in his new job. He rang me to say thank you again when he was on the coach. I walked back to Victoria Station feeling quite happy that with my knowledge of London’s public transport system I had helped someone out. I felt useful and helpful.
A few things came to mind as I thought about what just happened:
– “I wonder what his new job is… hope it’s not for the mafia or an abattoir something shitty like that.” We all have to eat, I guess.
– “Is all this an elaborate con? If so, what’s the con? Why am I being so cynical?” I have these thoughts about people approaching me quite often, mainly because we’re encouraged to look out for suspicious behaviour and pickpockets. But he seemed to me like an honest man who wasn’t out to con me, who just wanted some information. Most people aren’t con artists or pickpockets.
And then a few other things came to mind:
I knew that I am not the only one to help out someone in need. There are people who do altruistic things all the time, all with only the mind to make things a bit better. I am proud that pretty much everyone I know, people who I can call friends and family, are wonderful, kind and generous people. I was elated to realise, and know, that there are many other people who I haven’t met (yet) who are also kind and generous and good human beings.
I was glad that the man made his connection. Finding a job is hard enough – I am (really fucking) lucky enough not to have had that experience for a long time. This man was willing to travel hundreds of miles for this job. I don’t want to seem rude, but taking an overnight National Express to Scotland and starting at 8am on a Saturday morning does not sound like a glamorous job, rather one that pays the bills. Whatever it is, this man was willing to do it. The worry of not getting there on time for his first day isn’t something that he needed. The stress of missing the connection I can easily imagine. I would have regretted it had I not seen him to his coach; I would have wondered all night and probably all day tomorrow whether he had made it and would have been convinced that he’d missed it. And I would have felt awful that I didn’t help.
This is probably the most out of my way I’ve gone to help someone I didn’t know. It’s probably why I felt like writing about it. It was more the feelings I had afterwards that I wanted to write about. I feel elated, for sure, but also a bit of sadness mixed in. Sadness because I felt so elated that I had done this one very small thing for someone, and because it wasn’t even that much. I feel sad because these little things should happen much more often than they do. It doesn’t seem difficult for it to happen more often. I feel sad because I don’t do this kind of thing often enough. I actually feel like I’m boasting, and boasting about nothing at that, and I feel uncouth and ungracious for doing it.
So I’ll end with something that I have come to truly realise over the past year:
Just by existing and having existed we make a difference in the world. Choosing what kind of difference we make is up to us, whether we like it or not.