walk with a stranger

One Friday evening I was emptying the mailbox in the hallway of the post office when a young boy noticed me there alone, struggling with fitting a packet into my backpack. I was quite excited because I knew the parcel was probably M's birthday gift from his parents.

The boy asked me for 5 lei. My usual answer is a “Sorry, no”. But he insisted, that he needed money to buy bread. I honestly don't know why, but in a bit of a nutty way I asked “Do you really need it for bread?”, and he maintained that yes, he needed it for food. So I said if that is so, I will give him 5 lei, from my heart, and that I hope it helps him. He seemed very pressed, looking around anxiously, while I took out the money from my purse and handed it to him.

After I put the purse away... he started asking for another 5 lei. And at this point he was really urging me to hurry up and give him another 5 lei. I kindly reminded him that it would be nice if he thanked me for the note I'd just given him. “Thanks! But give me 5 more, now!”. Well that's not a nice way to behave! I was in a kind of motherly state a bit, like I would've wanted to teach him some manners.

Then he started threatening me, while looking around worried, hurrying me to deliver what he demands. “Or else I'll call my father and you'll be sorry”. Really? You're going to call daddy? Of course in the moment, facing him alone I didn't say those things. I was slightly intimidated, but not genuinely scared because it was so distant... as if his father could be bothered, really, and what would he do?

At this point we left the post office and started walking down the main street. It was dark and I had already said goodbye to him several times, but it turned out he was going in the same direction. So he walked at a certain distance from me, continuing to ask for money. I continued to tell him I had already given him 5 and it should be enough for bread and such, and that I sincerely wish him all the best.

Later he threatened me further, saying that if I don't give him 5, he'll take all my money. I took that in, I felt it didn't bother me too much, so I answered I needed that money just as much as him, for bread and food. I was in fact headed for the market, to buy food. And he didn't do anything, just kept repeating the same threats and demands and I kept repeating the same facts.

My adrenaline was quite high I must say. But also I felt very centred, I didn't actually feel fear very much because he seemed more scared than me when people would walk by. It was a very good experience. Not to react to threats. Especially not to try to scare him or anything, just calmly letting him be there if that's what he wants. It might've confused him a bit, like he didn't know what to do next.

After a while I asked him about his age, where he was from, he asked me also. I don't know how honest he was in his answers, but it doesn't really matter. It took his focus from begging to just... walking and talking. Sometimes he'd ask for money again, at least 2 lei then, and I'd reassure him of my best wishes. One time he asked for a kiss. I told him I had a boyfriend and that he can have a kiss from his mother or sisters. He quickly said he had a girlfriend anyway.

I asked him why was he asking so much from me? What does he give? Anyway, guess what was in his bag? A loaf of bread. That he had asked the money for. Haha. I didn't mind.

I saw him as a person I happen to be talking to, because he's walking the same way. I wanted him to feel that and that I wish him all the best in his life, good luck, compassion and such. I don't know what effect it had on him and how much he believed me.

This experience felt like we broke some barriers, or, if not, we had a glimpse of what is beyond the roles we play. To him, I was a source of income. To me, he was a beggar and a threat. Walking down the street, we were forced to step out of our initial roles, and we became merely two strangers, who got to connect by chance, not very deeply, but it was enough to kick us a bit out of balance.

And then we walked on into our lives.