I learnt a lesson in freedom today. Went to Boots at lunchtime to get the kid some waterproof plaster. As usual collected knick-knacks I wouldn’t have got otherwise thanks to all the clever marcomms people out there. Then went to the OTC counter to pay, as I also wanted some Piriton for an early onset of allergies.
Then I saw this Sri Lankan looking chap in his early twenties approaching the prescription counter to the right of me rather hesitatingly. With a typical heavy Sri Lankan accent but in perfect grammar he explained to the pharmacist that he had a really bad throat and backache. He was wearing an old coat, winter hat and wrapped up in a thick scarf. I smelt him before I saw him. A mix of musty clothes, Ayurvedic oil and overall old sweat.
The pharmacist directed him to the OTC counter I was at. Or rather stuck at as the cashier attending to me made a mistake and had to ring all my stuff back up. We made eye contact and I smiled, though his body odour was quite overpowering. My cashier called another person to the till next to us as the smelly guy was in a hurry to get somewhere else. So the pharmacist came to the next till and got him some throat lozenges. He then asked what about my back pain? The pharmacist asked him to continue the painkillers he was already taking. He then asked how much the throat lozenges were? £2.99, then the guy said then I wont get that I’ll just get this and purchased some halls for 49 pence. Which he paid from a bank debit card, didn’t see which bank.
I was devastated. I had my bank card in my hand and my reflex was to just enter it into the card reader in his till and buy him some proper throat medicine, some Voltran for the back pain, and a decent flu medicine. I FROZE…
I just don’t know why. Maybe it was best to mind my own business?
England is pretty much cool with some things. If you are in this country with a legal visa and have a proper mailing address it is within your right to register at the nearest doctors surgery. If you have insufficient funds you can appeal for and if you are under 16 even the prescription is free.
So what was up with this smelly guy? I found it rather sad that this young man couldn’t afford £2.99 for some throat lozenges, hadn’t obviously taken a wash for at least a couple of weeks, was unshaven and looked quite ill. He honestly looked a wee bit mental and maybe that’s why I didn’t offer to pay.
Is the price of pursuing the dream in the west, the freedom of white picket fences with no gates that important? How much will someone forgo for his or her perception of freedom?
I knew this beggar in Colombo. He used to wash in the sea and then dry himself under the sun on the beach. His mangy dog and him both.
So at what price freedom? Am I in the wrong for judging him?