The past week has brought to light a ugly side to the nation, that makes me feel deeply uneasy. I can only hope that History will not spin the truth into a falsely glorified image of an ideologically motivated revolt of the people. This is not 1789 Paris. Last week’s events are the offspring of excess idle energy which, deprived of a constructive outlet, turned into destructive anger; and of the growing sense of entitlement that is corroding the country to the chore.
In the midst of all this landscape of soul-destroying detritus, I found a diamond.
Last week, the son of an American friend of mine, on his first trip to Europe, lost his mobile ‘phone at Victoria Station. Now, this is not Tokyo, where people’s sense of honour makes it beneath their dignity to steal a mobile. Neither is it Zurich, where the success of lost property shops is proof of a law abiding nation. This is London, where the odds of recovering a lost ‘phone are about as high as those of ever getting an enlightened government.
Against the odds, the ‘phone was found by a young French woman who works here as a nanny. She picked it up and sent text messages to a few people listed in the address book. However, the battery was running out and, not having a matching charger, she worried that the ‘phone would die before she was able to contact the owner. So she copied the numbers onto her own sim card.
A few days ago, I got in touch with her, and we arranged to meet yesterday, so that I could pick up the ‘phone. My friend decided to give a $50 reward to whoever found it. As I sat waiting in a South Kensington pâtisserie, and thought of the £30 I had in a sealed envelope in my bag, I felt certain that she would not accept it. From our initial telephone conversation to the ensuing text messages we exchanged, something in the courtesy of her tone suggested quiet dignity.
In her place, I would not accept a reward. Would you?
Of course, she would accept. People do. Even if they are not dishonest, most people are freeloaders who say, “why not – if it’s offered?” They accept, as though unaware that they have either choice or responsibility.
My original gut feeling was strengthened at the sight of her smiling face. A clean, open face of about twenty-two or three. A face totally absent in the knowing, cynical and bored expressions so common among her peers.
It was with a sense of awkwardness that I handed her the envelope with the money, conveying my friend’s sincere gratitude. The French girl flushed with palpable embarrassment. “No, that’s not why I returned the ‘phone.”
I assured her that that had been obvious from the start. She still refused the accept the envelope, shying away from it as though it would somehow taint her. I begged her not to take offence. I explained that, if we knew her address, we would send her a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine, and asked her to accept the money in the spirit in was intended.
After several minutes of my pleading, she finally accepted.
And I walked away, and watched passers-by with a more hopeful eye for the rest of the day.
© Scribe Doll