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What the guy doesn’t see

What the guy doesn’t see

After a few months of seat-giving-uppery, it slowly dawned on me that I was always the first - very often the only - one to offer. How selfish, I harrumphed to myself and resolved, next time, to stare out of the window and not budge, just see what happened

Friday, 8 September 2023, 13:54

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About twenty years ago I lived in La Pelusa, a small suburb of Malaga, a tortuous half-hour bus ride from the city centre where I used to sing my little heart out most evenings.

It was a busy route but I always had a seat because mine was the first stop of all. However, the bus would soon fill up and for twenty minutes or so there’d be standing room only for new passengers. I’d very often give up my seat for people in greater need. On one memorable occasion a young mother stepped onto the bus with a baby in each arm and a boy of about seven in tow. I duly stood up and gestured towards the empty seat. In one of the most unbelievable scenarios to ever play out on any form of public transport, she then told her young lad to sit down, while she continued to juggle the two babes in arms for the rest of the journey. I’m not sure where that boy is now, but I’d hazard a guess at loafing on a sofa somewhere barking orders at his poor, beleaguered spouse.

Anyway, after a few months of seat-giving-uppery, it slowly dawned on me that I was always the first - very often the only - one to offer. How selfish, I harrumphed to myself and resolved, next time, to stare out of the window and not budge, just see what happened. It was tough. A frail old woman leaning on a walking stick stood only feet away, while my legs jiggled under the pressure of restraint. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute. I just couldn’t do it any longer but did decide to make a bit of a show.

“Madam!” I called out, just a little too loudly “Take a seat here, please.” I may or may not have made a grand sweeping gesture with my arm like a Shakespearean actor hamming it up. What happened next caught me completely off guard. About six or seven people leapt to their feet crying “Madam! Take a seat!” and “No, Madam, you must surely take mine. I insist.” It became quite the competition and the poor woman, looking baffled and humbled in equal measure, assured everyone she was getting off at the next stop anyway and thanked them all for their kindness before doing just that (I suspect to this day that it wasn’t her stop at all).

The thing is, then, people weren’t being selfish not giving up their seats, they simply hadn’t noticed what was going on.

I was reminded of all this today when a chap dropped a small card face down in a crowded street in Malaga. Nobody noticed. I called out to him and bent down to pick it up, forgetting that my most flexible years are behind me, thus staggering ungainly forwards, managing to both crease the card in my clumsiness and slide it a foot further down the street. The man walked over and picked it up himself with enviable dexterity and offered a “Gracias” which somehow also managed to convey the sentence ‘I think you may have ruined a small family photograph which has been preserved lovingly in my wallet for decades, but I won’t punch you squarely on the nose because you meant well, I suppose.’

There’s a lot to be said for not noticing sometimes.

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