Saturday 23 April 2022

Coronavirus streets in Manchester - LXVI

Breaking my stride

The fear of abandonment was palpable during a chance encounter with a lady I met on one of my walks late at night. Our conversation began on the note of her acknowledging that I was working hard at my fitness, if only it showed that well, I’ll be a happier man.

As I responded to the compliment, she intimated that she was a victim of some sort of domestic violence which I then learnt was an orchestrated gang rape in a sheltered setting for which the main protagonist had been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

She obviously needed help and I slowed down so she could walk with me, it felt she needed someone to talk to and I was quite disposed to listen and see what I could do to help. I could not give her money as most transactions are cashless, but I offered that we might be able to find a place that takes contactless payments to get her a few essentials.

And we talked

The back-and-forth conversation included my revealing I am gay, I have a partner and our domestic situation when we are together. She made saucy and cheeky comments about what might make me attractive to my partner and much else, she was funny and quite lucid, very aware of the dangers on the street.

She apologised for slowing me down as she was still recovering from the 87 stitches that she received for her injuries. I learnt she was a grandmother, she had had some nasty relationships and been with some rather notorious and violent partners, some of whom had negatively coloured her view of life and survival.

Along the way, she called out to a couple of men who were huddled in a doorway, she volunteered that they were on spice, a synthetic cannabinoid with debilitating side effects sometimes leading to fatalities, and this is on the streets around us to which many of us are totally oblivious.

Trust is scarce

We were planning on going to a night shop, but as I realised we were only about half a kilometre from my home, I would rush home to pick up a few things for her and get my bank card to withdraw some money for her. I have never tried to second-guess what people might do with the money I give them, nor do I want to police what they do with it. It is for them to decide what their immediate need is and to either wisely or unwisely attend to that.

When I told her, I can run home to get a few things, she began to cry thinking I was about to abandon her. I could understand, yet I would only give her assurances that I would return apart from the fact that I did not really want to reveal where I lived. Besides, some people are so desperately in need of help and support beyond the immediacy of what we can do for them in that moment.

Completely worn down

On one occasion, in attending to someone in desperate need, I made the mistake of giving him my phone number, first, he said, he had lost the money I had given him to get shelter for the night, and when I still engaged and secured the shelter, through the night, I was bombarded with calls and pleas, more than 40 of them and it continued to the next day.

I happened to see him a few days after and by then I had been so worn down that there was not a scimitar of empathy left in me as I shouted at him and told him how he made me regret ever meeting him at all. He was never ever to contact me ever again and if he approached me, I would tackle him as a mugger. It was the kind of thing that could sear your conscience against having the milk of human kindness, then again, every person’s circumstance is different.

In the readiness to help, the helped, despite their situation, circumstances, and history should be careful and that is difficult, to not frustrate their helpers with untrammelled demands, we all have limited capacity to address issues that are essentially endemic and in need of more professionally coordinated approaches for long term benefit to those that require it.

Willing to angel

I ran home and got a coat, a scarf, pairs of socks, and the thermal underwear that I bought for my sister when she was in Iceland, but I never got to post, and a few snacks packed into a bag, not forgetting my bank card, and rushed out again.

She was still waiting for me, as I took to one side and showed her everything I had brought before giving her some money. She asked if I was sure I wanted to give her what I had already given her, I guess this thought comes with the concept that the generosity from strangers could be in short supply for those in desperate need. I do wonder if giving them a lot of money can do a perverse thing of changing the concept of value, in terms of what they need.

That is probably something for social scientists, psychologists, or anthropologists to study, I can only do my bit in within the means that I have. What could I do when she started crying at what I had been given the opportunity to do? I embraced her and told her, to think of it as if her had just met an angel. Even on the streets of Manchester, there is goodness, kindness, and mercy for all, those who have and many more who do not have much at all.

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