It was a Tuesday. That morning, I was in a hurry to catch up with an appointment. Naturally, I had to drive past parts of my neighbourhood.
My neighbourhood: To be candid, I am not an amazing neighbour. It is quite a shame. And I feel bad that I feel bad about it too infrequently. You should also know that sometimes, I prod on for vast portions of a day without noticing me, starving and/or depriving me of basic care, in the process. Again, it is a shame. The explanation about me not giving me due attention is not a sufficient excuse for my rather superficial relationship with families in the hood; but it does put things in perspective a bit, I hope.
Let me work my way back to the Tuesday in focus. Despite my confessed deficits in neighbourliness, I believe in practical, responsive actions to one’s neighbour. I don’t have to know your family tree to give you a ride on Tuesday morning. If our shared propensity for the bizarre and the inhuman was not in such surplus supply, I shouldn’t have to know you to give you a ride from point-G to X-bus stop, within the township. That should just be as natural as lemon. Shouldn’t it?
I was driving behind an old salon car. I’d love to tell the brand but I couldn’t be sure of so much – given the multi-colour exterior, and dissimilar body parts. From the dressing of the driver however, the car was clearly not being used as taxi. A middle aged woman flagged the car, apparently needing a ride to the bus stop further down the road. The man sped on, not minding the woman. Unasked, I slowed down to do what duty the previous driver had left unattended. The woman, likely in her mid forties, looked at me with a gaze that spoke suspicion and indecision. Finally, she waved that I should leave. She won’t let me help her. Not that Tuesday.
Maybe she felt I am too young to be that thoughtful & kind. My T-shirt didn’t help. Neither did the SUV I was driving. People who look like I do, driving such cars don’t care for people that wear such look as she wore (for a younger lady, they may care). Something must be wrong, not right, with this gesture. She chose to err on the less risky, suspicion side of caution. And left me wondering; left me confused in thoughts, for a while. Later, it dawned on me: when kindness of a certain sort is offered unasked, the offerer becomes suspect.
I used to wonder – as a younger man – why it was rare to see fine-car-owners helping workers, on the route to work, or worshippers on the way to church, and anyone else in between. Why there was such snobbery on the part of car owners, I could never tell.
The snobbery gradient is like this: The finer the car, the less likely it is to be of help to neighbours. This means that over time, the finer the car, the less motivated commuters feel to flag it down. The ordinary, air-condition-less car was by far more likely to be of help. Isn’t this one reason it struck the Tuesday woman as odd that I offered her a ride without her asking?
I still don’t know why many car owners act so plastically. In many cities of Africa, fear of being harmed in the process of giving such transit assistance is justifiable. But that, I think, is not the main issue. I suspect vanity, more than security, sustains this practice. Plus a lopsided sense of value.
Let me explain a bit. There is an unfortunate species of human beings among us. They feel more and more important in themselves when they are less and less accessible to ordinary, hardworking folks. This curious class of humans have always been around but they seem to have found new tricks for mass reproduction. They are multiplying their kind with decided frenzy, across generations. Some of their kind do not have cars yet, nevertheless, they all share the same gene. You know the guy who hoards helpful course materials, so he can make the highest grade. You know the chap who ridicules low income earners. Yes you do. They grow up to be the snobs in the car.
What is the big deal in giving two or three people ride on your way to work? How about waving an apology if you are in so much hurry you can’t help? How about being intelligently neighbourly (‘intelligently’ for security’s sake), to even strangers.
It is good to be on time. Good to conserve fuel. Good to avoid distractions. A lot is good. How about being human? Isnt that good? If we are humans, should we not seek for balance? And balance, as should be obvious, is usually somewhere between the two parallel lines of:
1. Trying to help everyone, and
2. Resolving to help no one.
The T-shirt & Ageing parts of that Tuesday will follow soon.
We can be better neighbours… Let’s be up and about it.