Kind strangers

I’ve been told about the strangers who can brighten your day. A kind word, a smile, just asking “how are you.” And I didn’t really believe them. Sure they can politely ask “how are you” – but why does it matter, they know nothing about your life to begin with! Yesterday though, the kindness of a stranger did touch my heart.

Recently I’ve been settling back into the city, and there have been difficulties. The long hours on public transport for a trip that should take ideally less than 10 minutes. The cars, oh the number of cars, the limited parking, with complicated parking signs (9am-5pm 2P ticket Mon-Fri, 9:30-12:30 2P ticket Sat, clearway 4pm-6pm etc). So, I finally found a carpark next to the hospital. But it was a 2P ticket zone, sigh. I only needed 5 minutes to drop off a document. I walked over to the ticket machine and deliberated whether it was worthwhile to buy a ticket… or should I just make a dash in and out of the hospital. Then an elderly man rolled down his window and said, “do you need a ticket, for about half an hour?” He handed me the piece of paper, “it’ll only last until 4:30 though,” he said apologetically. I told him that’s great as I only needed to be there for a little while. I thanked him and he gave me a broad smile and drove off.

It was a simple gesture, just a small piece of paper, and cost him nothing but a little thoughtfulness. Yet it was so kindly given that it felt warm. It helped me to view strangers, and patients specifically, with a bit more optimism. It’s easy to be cynical about patients. If a stranger can affect our mood, our views, then the question to ask is – do I show kindness to strangers? Do you show kindness to strangers?

Want to hear one more story? Back in Singapore, I wrote a short story about another kind stranger.

Singapore has temperamental and excessive weather – from glaring, hot sunlight to buckets of rain that begins to flood the grasslands and pavements. The city has an extensive network of deep open drains and wide canals to deal with the rainwater.

I dislike carrying umbrellas because wet umbrellas wet your bag, and are heavy on the shoulders. Besides, droplets of rain don’t hurt anybody. That afternoon I was walking from the bus stop to the hospital. As usual, cars were jammed because of the downpour, though I’m not sure why cars jam when the rain is heavy in Singapore. Anyway, I waited calmly to cross the road. I waited and felt the rain begin to soak my hair and my long flowing skirt. One car was kind enough to slow down to let me cross.

Reaching the underground staff canteen, a couple of impolite men sitting around a table smirked at me. Perhaps I was paranoid, or perhaps they were really staring at my dripping hair. I ignored them and walked on. Then I came to cross the road, so that I could catch the free shuttle bus back to the train station. The walkways are nicely sheltered, but the crossing was open.

I strolled towards the crossing, knowing a bit more rain wouldn’t make much difference to my current state. I gazed ahead and caught the eye of a young man, dressed well, probably a medical student or a young doctor. He was walking towards me, heading for the opposite direction. He walked towards me, smiled and offered me his umbrella, and I was taken aback. Puzzled I mumbled, ‘oh no, that’s ok’ and he replied, ‘no no, that’s ok’ and changed his direction to offer his umbrella and walk with me. The scene was almost funny. I thanked him and he disappeared with his friend.

Did he pity me? I don’t know. But what a gentleman! I thought. A kind stranger who couldn’t have had any ulterior motives because we were perfect strangers and unlikely to even remember each other’s faces. The experience was surreal.



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