4 February 2010

Independence, the celebration of freedom and the smelly Sri Lankan.

 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?


TU said...

You could have paid and helped him out. You don't need permission for doing the right thing. Yes, i understand Privacy and where you're coming from, but Humanity superseeds all man made privacy and decency norms. Next time perhaps? Help him, even if he is an illegal immigrant and Smelly like you said :)

TU said...

supersedes that is, not superseeds. Typo regretted :)

Serendib_Isle said...

I totally get it. Once I was taking the tube from Heathrow and the first Sri Lankan I meet invites me to make a jump. Says there are many Sri Lankans who he knows living in London illegally and “...maximum, you will not be able to go home for a few good years.”

I was shocked. I thanked him for the offer and told him that even though I am from Sri Lanka, I was not that desperate. ;)

Well, that was a long time ago, and I was in my 20’s.

ViceUnVersa said...

TU - Older, hopefully wiser. I have got my fingers burnt so many times that it has created permanent doubt in my mind. Especially with strangers.
In hindsight did he follow me into Boots? However, yes whatever the circumstance, he was what he was, and I should have helped.

Wijitha - Machan next time you are in this part of the world please let me know. I'll take you to a couple of places where you wont believe it's London!

Anonymous said...

DD - I had a similar experience last week.... I was going to Holbon and was on the phone when saw this Asian guy asking some people for directions and then they walked off I was walking towards the station and then he asked me if i knew the directions to the DOHAR QUATAR embassy. I had been speaking to my friend in English and for some mad thing said in sinhala that I would call later. This stranger then asked me if I was sinhala and I said yes. then he asked me to give directions as he was lost.. to cut a long story short he is working for a quatari family who had gone to the US for a vacation and as the stranger did not get the visa he was shunted off to another quatari family in coventry for a week with £50 in his pocket. The quataris at coventry had put him on a london train when he should have gone to Reading. and at Kings X or Euston this guy had to pay for the differnce and did not have much money. I told himt hat they embassy was closed and took him to holborn bought him a single to Reading and gave him bus fare from Holborn to Waterloo and then from Reading to Appleford his ultimate destination. He took down my number. Todate no call and when I reflect back he was not even coy about accepting my offer, he just thought it was his right that I should help him. Was I expecting too much. I was thinking what if I were in that position? or my family members,, my dad thought I got ripped off... I am not sure but I will think twice the next time.. but I am such a push over I would perhaps do it all again!