It was around 8:30pm. I’d been asked by my boss to attend an award presentation in his place that night as he was overseas. The awards were over and I was heading home.

I was walking down towards Southern Cross Station when this woman stopped me in the street. She was reasonably well dressed, holding only car keys, and she told me this long story about how her car had run out of petrol, she was parked in a clearway zone, and she had stupidly left her wallet in the office. As it was late, no one was in the office, and she had no money to pay for a can of petrol to get her car going again. Could I help her?

To put my state of mind into perspective here, in the past week a good Samaritan in Melbourne had come to the aid of someone being beaten up by a gang of men. The gang turned on him, chased him down and stabbed him to death. This story had really disturbed me – there are so many stabbings these days in Melbourne, and people trying to help others keep being punished for it. People used to look out for one another, and now people are too scared to do anything.

The woman’s story sounded like it could be a con. But I wanted to believe it wasn’t. I wanted to prove that people… strangers… can help one another. If she was telling the truth, I wanted to help her.

She promised that if I could help her out, and gave her my business card, she would return the money to me in the morning as she worked in the city. So I gave her $20 and my card. As I did so I figured, whatever the outcome, it would make a good blog article.

I never saw her again.

Now that could have been the end of this article. A warning not to help people. But it damn well isn’t.

I didn’t just laugh it off. I’ve felt mightily pissed off all week. Not because she conned me out of $20. I’m really upset because I wanted to be proven right that there are good people out there, people who tell the truth, people helping other people. And people like this woman make it harder and harder for people like me to continue believing in people.

This woman was worse than the angry homeless guy I often see who asks you for money, you give him $2, and he then asks you to make it $20 every time. At least he isn’t pretending to be anything more than an angry homeless guy without any money.

I know we have a global financial crisis, and people are hurting a little, but how do people like this live with themselves? How can someone feel good about taking money from someone who was trying to help them? What happened to the grifter’s code of “Never con an honest man”?

Some will call me a sucker, but I’m determined to keep trying to help people. I don’t want to live in a society where you can’t trust anyone. And I still want to believe.

The Kindness of Strangers

4 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  • June 3, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    This is a sad story, man. As one who is the target of almost every begger in the city, I feel for you…but I’m pretty sure the grifters code is “You can’t con an honest man” ;-)

  • July 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks god I’ve found you! That was me in the dress, desperate for someone with compassion to help me out of a very tight situation. I was planning to return the money to you the next day, but on the way to work I was kidnapped by slave traders, and taken to work as a housekeeper for a Nigerian Prince. Now he wants me to repay the costs of the slave traders, and all my boarding costs before he will let me go. Please help me – I desperately need $27,000 in order to get back to Australia and my family. I will be eternally grateful, and will return the money as soon as I am back…

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