I had been staying at my Hostel in Chiang Mai for four days. The hostel was quite a dynamic place with people checking in and out all the time, changing personality with departures and arrivals.
But in my four day stay, there was one constant in terms of occupancy.
A frail old English gentleman with a disfigured face lay in that quiet corner in the common area, much the same way as I saw him the first time, four days ago.
He didn’t even seem to move. Occasionally he would turn a little with great discomfort to get to an agreeable bodily position.
I felt a bit afraid to approach him. I felt he wanted to be left alone.
As I was leaving the hostel, I mustered the courage to approach him.
I had a few Rose Apples fresh out of the fridge, just at the temperature they taste best at. I patted him on his back and offered it to him.
He opened his uninjured right eye and accepted it.
I left for the next destination soon after.
A week later, I happened to pass through the city again and chose to stay at the same hostel. Much to my surprise, most of it was deserted with people leaving to cooler places in Thailand as compared to a hot and humid Chand Mai.
I entered the common area to find the elderly Englishman still lying at the same spot. This time I felt more responsible to act since there was barely anyone around.
With a ripe mango in my hand I approached him gingerly.
‘How are you?’ I asked.
‘Ah, it’s you!. I am much better than last week. I can finally walk on my own.
You know what happened to me? I fell off a bus after getting nudged by a heavy backpack. Once I got up, I had my money and phone stolen and I did not recall much at all. I forgot my bank passwords, my email…It was like a complete reboot.
Gradually I remembered things and I wrote to my bank to send me a new card. I have just been waiting for it all this while.
I was a reporter for BBC you know, I’ve covered news from war-zones, but never in my life have I felt so lonely and helpless, on a holiday for God’s sake, when I am supposed to be having fun.’
‘That day when you gave me that fruit’ he continued,’ I felt I could eat a hundred of those. I hadn’t eaten in a while and my body didn’t feel ready to accept anything. But since that day, I’ve been eating and recuperating.’
‘How about a mango today?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, I love mangoes. That would be a dilight !’
I left him to savour the mango and retired for the night.
The next day as I was leaving, I stopped to check if I had any food left in the common fridge. I had mangoes and a few packets instant noodles.
I took the food with me to the English man.
‘Care for another mango?’ I asked.
He slowly opened his eyes.
I placed the cold mango in his palms.
‘Oh thank you so much!’
‘Okay, Michael, I am leaving now. I wish you a speedy recovery.’
The staff at the hostel interrupted to inform Michael,
‘He also left noodles for you. You can have for dinner tonight!.
Joining both hands together in gratitude,
He just said,
‘Thank you so much. I love you.’
We waved goodbye and I left the hostel happily.
While bicycling, many questions arose in my mind.
‘It must have been a long time since he made a new friend.’
With age, we lose the openness of making new friends. Kids have a new friend an hour. But adults barely make new friends after an age.
But finding a friend, especially when you need them, in situations you least expect, is such a cathartic joy.
You feel like a child again.
And once the gentleman felt like a child again, it was second nature for him to say ‘I love you.’
That’s something people don’t even say to their spouse after a decade into the marriage. We guard our hearts with utmost caution in the real world. But the moment the heart turns into a child’s , a guarded, 70 year old man, sings these words like the song of a canary.
I also got thinking about
‘How hesitant we are to ask for help. Even sadder is how reluctant we are to help people who could use some.’
It is easy to not help when there are many people witnessing the same problem. We think that ‘someone’ will help. A classic case of diffusion of responsibility.
But once we get past that and be proactive in helping someone in need,
Not only do we gain goodwill, but also the prospect of making a new friend.
As they say, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ Especially a new friend, who chooses to stop being a bystander, a passive sympathiser.
It helps to keep an open heart.
When you need help, ask for it,
When you are in a position to,
help in the best way you can.
That’s how we create the possibility
Of new friendships,
Of blossoming hearts,
Of having faith in humankind.
I LOVE YOU.