Last night a friend and I were walking home from drinks in town when he noticed a man sat on a wall in the street. If on my own, this is something I would avoid without a doubt; living in a city that seems to breach new bad news of assaults and disappearances rather often has trained me into a state of fear I have not experienced in London or the Forest of Dean. (With the exception perhaps of the reason my parents moved us to the Forest; me coming home crying at the tender age of 9, relaying horror stories of being forcibly injected with heroine in the playground once I got to secondary school.) I cross the road to avoid groups of men, and safety is always at the forefront of my mind on my dark walks home.
My friend is not so inclined. In fact he was too troubled to carry on home. Seeing the need in his eyes, I suggested we go to the man. My friend was wonderful. Apparently having never done such a thing before, he walked straight up to the man and engaged him in conversation, asking questions, comforting him, put an arm round him, and quite quickly got him to stand up and walk. Unfortunately the taxis were not so sympathetic, so we took him to a nearby Macdonald’s, bought him a coffee and asked the staff to call a lift. They had no more luck than us, and before very long the man slid down the wall he was leaning on in front of me and passed out. I tried for a response myself, with no luck. Immediately a small crowd started to form, strangers asking if I needed help, assuming the man was a friend of ours. I don’t think I have ever been in a situation like that.
Despite feeling quite ill myself only a short while before, I was sufficiently sobered.
After hearing another rejection through the staff radio, I called an ambulance myself. I was instructed to lie the man on his back and tilt his head back, checking that his mouth was empty and he was breathing. It was amazing how many people chimed in with their own opinions on what should be done instead, and yet did nothing themselves. One girl even shouted before the phone call, “I’m first-aid trained, someone tell me what’s going on,” before just staring at the whole thing from a few feet away, uninterested. One guy was quite sweet and took an interest in helping, but none of them made me feel as safe as my friend did.
When the paramedics finally arrived and we were told we could go, I felt a little bit in awe of him. And then he walked me home.
And there you have it. That was my last night. And it almost certainly wouldn’t have been, had I been with anyone else.