I had to stay late at office to attend a client meeting. My office is in a village about nine kilometres from my house. So an office cab dropped me on the main road near my house about half an hour before .
To reach my house, I have to walk around 500 metres down a lane lined with trees and a couple of houses on one side and a big function hall on the other. On a non-function night, this road can be unusually dark and quiet. On such a night I would have probably told the cab driver to take me right up to my gate. However, on this night bright floodlights lit up the lane. Obviously a wedding or some other kind of function had been going on. Since there were some other people in the cab to be dropped, I alighted at the main road and proceeded to walk down the lane.
The lane was brightly lit, and one or two people could be seen as I started walking towards my house. I was holding my mobile phone in my hand. A man came from the other end. He was wearing a wrinkled shirt with a flowery pattern and dirty trousers. He had an unkempt beard. His overall appearance was extremely shabby. He longingly eyed my hand holding the mobile phone.
As he reached me, he said (in Hindi) “Sir, may I borrow your phone for a moment, I need to give a missed call to my boss.” Even without thinking, I blurted out, “I don’t have balance in my cell.”
“Please sir, I’ll just give a missed call,” he insisted. I still refused. At last he said, “OK, I’ll tell you the number, you dial it yourself.” I’m not very good at lying, and almost agreed to that plan, before realizing that I was not supposed to have balance. “Oh ok, tell me…er… but I don’t think it’ll work”, was my half-cooked reply. But instead of telling me the number, he told me how he needed to call his boss badly, but couldn’t as he didn’t know the public phone booths in the area.
I gave him directions for finding a phone booth, and he left with a “Thanks” and “Sorry to bother you”. As I saw him go, I felt very sure that he wouldn’t find a phone booth open anywhere nearby at this time of the night, in case he really needed it.
Did I do the right thing? Or did I refuse help to a really needy person in trouble? I have no way of telling now. But one thing I’m sure of: given a similar situation again, I will react in the exact same way. Probably my lie will be more convincing this time. In any case, I’m never going to lend my phone to a rough-looking person in an empty lane at in the night. Not even if he truly needs it.
When we lose faith in some of our fellow human beings, everybody has to suffer in the end.