Friday 12 June 2009

Should I Have Helped?

Two incidents, both happened yesterday, and while I mentally shrugged off the first one, for some reason I do not fully understand myself, the second one is still niggling at my conscience (or, what's left of it - I've never been very good at this part of the average human's mental make-up, I'm afraid).

On my way home from work, I had to wait at the train station a bit longer than usual, since it was a bank holiday in my part of Germany, with trains running less frequent than on a normal working day.
The other people waiting on the platform were mostly cyclists and grandparents with small children, turning in from daytrips that had probably been quite adventurous, judging from the excitement in the kids' voices, the tiredness on the grandparents' faces and the mud splashes on the bikers' legs.

One youngish woman stood a little apart from the rest, next to a bench where she had placed her handbag. She stood there at an odd angle, not unlike a tree that will fall down with the next gust of wind. And she did not stand still, she was swaying. Sideways.
Then some coins fell out of her hand, and she slowly bent down to pick them up. She didn't get back up, but instead first knelt and then sat on the ground, her head slowly sinking to her chest.

People did look in her direction, and then quickly the other way. Those with children pulled them a bit further along the platform.

I walked up to the woman and asked her whether she needed help.
She shook her head and, the effort visible on her rather pale face, scrambled back up to her feet, not taking my oustretched hand.
Once again, I asked whether there was anything I could do for her. No, was the answer.
So I suggested she sit down on the bench, next to her bag. Again, no. "I get dizzy when I sit down." Oh yeah, right. Logical, that.
She did not smell of alcohol, but she was clearly drugged up with something, and apparently there really wasn't anything I could do for her at that moment, so I went back to where I had stood before.

When the train arrived, I watched to make sure she was actually getting on safely and not falling down the gap between train and platform, and when I had to get off, she was still on the train.

Later at home, the doorbell was rung. Not once or twice, no, three times in what I can only describe as a frantic manner.
I didn't expect anyone, and our front door is not visible from the street, so it is normally just people who know either me or my neighbours, or the postman to find their way here.

Looking out of the window (because no-one replied when I pressed the intercom and asked who was there), I saw a man with Asian features, who in almost unintelligible German tried to explain something about a restaurant, a train ticket, and money. At least those were the words I thought I made out. He said a lot more, and the most clearly understandable two bits were "Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut" and "No, no English, solly" (he really said "solly").

When I thought I'd understood he urgently needed money for a train ticket, I asked "Wollen Sie Geld?", to which he replied with yet another stream of words, which sounded almost exactly like what he had said before, so I still wasn't any the wiser.

In the end, I just watched as he, obviously frustrated by his lack of success in explaining or my lack of success in understanding, threw his arms up in the air and left.

It still puzzles me why, if he really needed money for a train ticket, he rang my doorbell. I live about 10 minutes from the station, where there are plenty of people hanging about he could have asked, and like I said, our front door is not even visible from the street.
He probably was asking for help with some entirely different matter, and I just got it completely wrong.

The man did not look like a criminal (now, I know criminals rarely have "I'm a criminal" stamped on their forehead), his overall appearance was normal and clean, and yet I did not even go downstairs to try and work out what he really wanted by talking to him on the same level.

I wonder whether I should have simply gone down and give him a tenner and see his reaction.
It wouldn't have killed me.
Should I have helped?


  1. No you shouldn't, meine Schwester. Sorry for sounding harsh, but you would never know what he had in mind, or perhaps had a concealed weapon.

    Honestly, it vexes me to no end why such people bothered to go to other people's country without having a shred of knowledge of the native languages? We have our fair share of our problems here as well.

    And yet, the whole lot of us are accused of being racist. These are the same people -- read: expats -- who cannot grasp the simple idea that looking alike doesn't mean we are all alike. Or just because we come [sic] from the same place, we should treat them no different. What kind of thinking is that, I ask you?


  2. Thank you, Schwesterlein, for leaving the FIRST COMMENT EVER on my blog here!! *does happy little dance*

    The man DID speak German - well, sort of - it was just almost impossible to understand.
    I wonder what became of him that day.