Tuesday, October 7, 2008
"One's action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on."
It might have been a scene from the grim world of Dickens.
Not the setting- no, that was a perfectly lovely occasion. Spouse and I had just finished lunch in a rather upscale restaurant in Ireland; it was a frost-bitten December afternoon seven years ago, a couple of days after we first met.
Our repast concluded, we dabbed our respective mouths with pristine cotton napkins, set a considerable cash tip of ten Irish Pounds on the table, and wound our slow way to the payment register.
Thereupon little Oliver Twist entered the stage.
I turned around to glance back, just once, at our table. It was, I think, the third time I had eaten in a restaurant in my life, and I wanted to remember it well with a final image.
I saw, then, a boy of about six years of age approaching our discarded table. His thin arm snaked out, coiling around the various dishes and ware we had left behind. Like the very street urchins of Victorian literature, the young fellow snatched our money between his fingers, and strolled away.
Had he been a weather-beaten, famished character in a book, I would have had, as a reader, due sympathy. Had he been a living, breathing, famished fellow human before my eyes, I would have been gripped by despair and pity, and doubtless would have let him escape.
But he, with my own money inside his fist, wandered back to his parents, who were dining at a nearby table. I suspected, from their manner and dress and the wealth of food on their table, that when they stood up to leave they would not think to look back with fondness: it struck me that they probably dined out regularly.
Add to that the telling fact that they laughed heartily at the sight of their little son, an intrepid entrepreneur of the future, carrying money that was not his own.
I was caught in the middle of a most unusual dilemma. Spouse was visiting an unfamiliar country and was not about to tackle a youngster for a sum of money. Spouse had just met me and neither could I set about vigorously berating the child and his family.
If, however, neither of us acted then the parents- who were smiling, avoiding eye contact with us and wholly excusing their son's penchant for thievery- would continue to be humoured by us all the way home.
I decided to risk the good nature that Spouse seemed to identify in me.
I told Spouse not to move. I stormed over to where the child was standing, took his hand firmly in mine, and proceeded to peel back his rebellious, resisting fingers one by one until I was able to extract the note and give it to the deserving waitress who had served us. Both the boy and his parents were stunned, and fell silent, and I chose not to shatter the peace with useless words. I only said "thank you," but the growl and the tone was its own suggestion to the parents that we had better not meet again.
Minutes later Spouse and I were skating merrily on an ice puddle outside the restaurant, and the little robber was forgotten.
It must, in hindsight, have been the right thing to do: Spouse, after all, is now Spouse.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:38 PM