It has been a very trying few months in which I did absolutely no physical exercise, and for which I have started to pay the price. Determined to reverse the damage, I enthusiastically grabbed my dog’s lead early on Monday morning to take her for a very overdue long walk. In our joint excitement, hers almost totally uncontainable, I forgot to put on my mask. I only noticed once well into the walk. Being a lazy person, I knew that if I returned home I would not leave again and the poor dog, in as bad physical shape as me, would get seriously short-changed.
I would have to get a mask somehow because the plastic bags I had tied to the lead for poop scooping were too small to go around my face as a makeshift mask. And, of course, I could easily asphyxiate myself. Then, I noticed cars driving into the premises of the large nearby supermarket to drop off workers. I waited briefly and before I even knew what I was doing, I flagged down a car I saw driving out. The black, unpolished taxi was in as bad shape as my body – I noticed as it pulled up right in front of me. Like a film reel in my head, I imagined the taxi driver wondering why on earth would a woman with a dog be asking him to stop. The car windows were all down and there were two male passengers in the back seat.
I explained that I had a strange request, that I had no mask and could not really go back home to get one. Since it was a taxi, I thought he might keep extra masks in the car and although I had no money to pay him, if he could spare one I would be very appreciative. He did not bat an eyelid, but he had no extra masks, which surprised me. The bigger surprise came though when he offered me a $5 bill and advised me where I could go to purchase one. A small chorus of curious onlookers joined in with conflicting shopping advice and it was turning into an event, at which point one of the unsmiling young men sitting in the back seat, with his head tied, quietly told the driver, not me, that he had a spare mask that he would let me have. He opened the backpack and handed me a properly sealed, virgin mask. I gratefully accepted it and the taxi sped off. I noted that it was a high-quality mask and quickly donned it.
It should not be considered extreme and unexpected generosity on the part of the taxi driver and his passenger but it was, and I was stumped for adequate words of thanks. Five dollars is almost the fare the driver would have received, and the passenger obviously was not well-heeled and might well have needed the mask, which is why he carried it in the first place. What inspired their kindness? Was it my patheticness in not remembering something so important, or were they caught off guard by my apparent open-mindedness and their kind response was just instinctive? If they’d had time to consider the ridiculousness of a woman with nothing better to do than walk her dog instead of going to work, asking them for a big favour when I probably looked like the one who should be offering them succour they might have reacted differently.
That experience has given me renewed hope, buoyed me up. It makes the neighbourhood watch WhatsApp group alert about strangers lingering without purpose on our street seem paranoid. Violence has warped our humanity. Our fear has made our hearts less full. And, this is not a phenomenon peculiar to TT, nor is it new. Forty years ago when I was heavily pregnant, in London, there was a bus strike. As I approached a local bus stop in my passenger-less car I saw a long queue of mainly women waiting there pointlessly. I drew up and offered to take four of them to the train station. Nobody would get it in. It was as if they feared I would kidnap them, and that was long before human trafficking was as commonplace as it is today. Eventually, a nun hesitantly decided to accept my offer, and another two people joined her. None of them spoke on the way to the station and all hurried out at the other end, barely saying thanks. Afterwards, I reflected that it was almost unheard of for any private car to pick up strangers in the street, regardless of the circumstances, at least in the city. Nowadays, we tend not to do that here either. The risks are too great.
How do we manage these risks though? The most memorable line from the cult, satirical film Catch-22, set during WWII but really about negotiating society, “Just because you're paranoid, does not mean they're not out to get you,” comes to mind. I think I will continue to make individual judgments and rely on my instincts.