I have been meaning to write about an incident that happened 3-4 weeks back, just before our deepavali vacation. We were to start to Chennai at around 4Pm on the Friday before Deepavali. S was already home and I was rushing back from office – I was yet to pack and there was hardly anytime left.
As is the norm, I was on phone with Amma on the way back home. It usually takes me 15 mins to walk home and that’s a perfect time for me to connect with my family. As I stay close by my office, I hardly remove my ID card. And this has been my route for the last 4.5 years. On that particular day, the road was fairly deserted and that is not something I noticed immediately. Half way through, I noticed a bike guy slow down behind me. Suddenly conscious, I started walking fast. Soon, the bike seemed to stop a few feet ahead of me. As I was crossing him, he called out for me. Feeling a little weird, I told my mom on phone to stay put and asked him what he wanted. He was wearing a helmet, with a bag on his bike, talking proper English. He first apologized for interrupting my conversation with *someone* on phone and urged me to finish talking, to properly hang up the phone. At first I didn’t find it fishy but as he continued urging me, I sternly told him that it was ok and get his with his question. I don’t know why I did that – it’s not like my amma could do anything from Chennai, 400Kms away from me. I think I liked the idea as it seemed to make him uncomfortable.
He went on to apologize again and that’s it not like him to interrupt someone like this. In his own words – “ So sorry for disturbing you. I would not have asked this otherwise, but I saw your ID card and since you are from XXXX, I was sure you could help me”. After going on for a few more times like this, he asked me if I could guide him to a mechanic shop. I didn’t understand what this had to do with where I worked. I gave him directions to the one on the main road. He immediately told me that they were not able to help him and if I knew any other place. I apologized and told him that I didn’t know any other place and I started walking. He called out to me again and asked if I could lend him some money. I was too shocked to respond properly and he repeated the same dialogue again – only because he saw I was from XXXX, he knew I would help him. I started panicking and told him point blank I was not carrying my wallet. My hope was that he would let me go but he persisted. He kept requesting me for the money, atleast for any loose change. At one point, I was wondering if he was really in some trouble and if I was being heartless. I had already told him that I was not carrying any money, so I couldn’t offer him any, even if he was being true. After a few more denials, I thought he would let me go. No. I was about to say sorry and move, but he requested again – “If you stay anywhere close by, can you get me some money? I will wait here” Now this was totally unexpected. It felt like he was very desperate and I couldn’t say no. He promised to return back the money (I don’t know how). When I enquired him how much he wanted, he said – “Madam don’t take too much tension, I don’t want much. Just a couple of hundreds.” Right when I was about to move, he told me that he would wait for me and that if it was not possible for me, I should inform him right away. By now, I was convinced that he was in some dire need. I walked as fast as I could and while retelling everything to amma, none of this made any sense. I was constantly looking over my shoulders to see if I was being followed – thankfully no.
S was waiting for me at our gate and I quickly told him the entire story. As I had to pack, I wanted S to hand over money to this guy. The very first question S asked me was, why does that man need the money?I had no idea and I had not asked him. First he wanted to know of a mechanic. If there was something wrong with his bike, how could he still ride on it? Why did he not remove his helmet and why should he insist me on hanging up my phone? Finally, why did he mention my workplace? Although none of it made sense, I convinced S to go find him to give the money. S was not back for next 15-20 mins. As I was getting worried, he came back home to tell me that there was no such guy anywhere around and that he had gone looking for him in 2Km radius.
What do I make of this encounter? How do you know if a person is taking advantage of you or is in real emergency? It’s not like he could have got someone else hand him some money as S was out to find him in five minutes. Was he trying to make some quick money, especially after seeing my corporate ID card? Did he try his best to make the situation seem genuine? I don’t have answers. I don’t know what would have happened if I showed him my wallet.
PS – learnt the hard way not to wear ID card outside of work, however lazy I am to put it in the bag.