“The point is not that I don’t recognise bad people when I see them — I grant you I may quite well be taken in by them — the point is that I know a good person when I see one.” ― The Rubadub Mystery, Enid Blyton
He looked like one of those dodgy people I avoid when walking to work in the morning through the mess of the night before in the CBD. I work across the road from the Federal Law Courts so when he jumped up on the retaining wall just outside my office window, I judged him as being someone who had crossed the road after an already tough morning of judgements.
When he pulled his six pack of beer out and placed it next to him, pulling a stubby from the box and then cursing at himself for not having a bottle opener, I was well and truly on my moral high horse, making my own conclusions… assumptions, same same.
He patted all his pockets, no doubt looking for a lighter that could moonlight as a bottle opener for a six pack length of time. He tried the fencing, he tried the metal poles around the retaining walls. He eventually found something to jimmy his cap off, which was out of my line of sight. He wandered back and hoisted himself back up to his spot on the wall.
He kept his gaze averted from the stream of pedestrian traffic on the pavement. He was looking into a void through the fencing. At nothing in particular, or so I could tell. The only thing on the other side of the fencing and retaining wall was an underpass and under croft car park decorated with ‘no unauthorised parking’ signs and threats of fines for smoking and loitering.
I sat inside and watched him out the corner of my eye, wondering what shit behaviour would soon start entertaining me in that ‘can’t take your eyes off it’ fashion. There was a lot of eye rolling and ‘surely he shouldn’t be sitting there drinking, should he?’ type thoughts. And, judgey, judgey, judgey.
Then he pulled a hat out of his pocket. He was already wearing a hat, so this got my attention, well and truly. He dusted the hat off, picked at dirt and lint on it, smoothed it as if it were creased in places it shouldn’t be, and he placed the hat on the wall next to him so… tenderly. It’s really the only word to describe it. Then he kind of ‘Cheers-ed’ the hat with his stubby.
Only then did I actually look at his face properly and notice him differently.
The red in his eyes was more likely from crying, not from being high. The nervous way he kept his eyes away from the traffic was probably so no one could see his tears, not because he was trying to avoid eye contact with ‘normal people’. The way he skulled his beer and opened another one straight away could have been because he was lost, numbing pain, escaping reality for a moment, not because he was a raging alcoholic, no good, dodgy guy skiving off work to attend court.
So, I found myself changing his story… Maybe he was in court to witness the trial of the person who had killed his mate? Maybe he was just wandering aimlessly around the streets of Perth, looking for a private place to sit and remember happier times, not wanting to completely shut himself off from the world for fear of making things all too real? Could he actually have been sitting in the place where his friend had lost his life? Did he pick the hat up off the ground from where his friend last lay?
And, with this change in story… some questions for me to think about – Why did I not look at him with kindness to start with? Why did the judgements start before I took the time to really see him? When did I become that person? The one who doesn’t give people half a chance before making up their negative story for them?
I didn’t used to be that way. Have I changed? I suspect digging into that question would unravel a whole pile of shit, but I’d like to believe my attitude comes from a place of self-preservation and vulnerability, rather than a place of prejudice and criticism.