Before I moved to London people warned me that it would make me cold. And not just in the temperature-sense.
“You’ll turn to stone.” They said. “You’ll grunt at people and push them out of your way. You’ll become a heartless passive-aggressive savage, huffing and tutting at everything. You will become a Londoner.”
“Impossible,” I thought. “I will never become a rough, savage londoner. Because I am Maltese. And everyone knows how gentle and sweet-natured the Maltese are. Nothing can ruffle our feathers. In fact, I very much doubt I have ever heard a Maltese person raise his or her voice above a whisper. And as for huffing and tutting, as a Maltese man, I’m not even sure I know what those concepts mean.”
And so, I moved to London determined not to fall into the trap. Yes, city life can be difficult. But if you face every new day with a lightness in your heart and a spring in your step, you can take whatever the world throws at you. (And if you are skipping everywhere, then there is a big chance that a hell of a lot might be thrown at you. By all the people you are annoying with your vomit-inducing sunny disposition.)
But, despite everything, within six months, it happened to me.
I was rushing home from a show that I was in and as I was going up the escalator from the underground platform, a man was standing on the left.
As everyone who has ever used the underground in London knows, you do not stand on the left. You walk on the left. You hurry on the left. You MOVE on the left.
This man however seemed oblivious to the most basic underground rule of them all. And he just stood there. Watching the world (and the posters on the walls) go by.
And before I knew it. I had huffed.
So loud was my huff that my escalator nemesis actually jumped the last three stairs. (Making up for all the lost time ironically).
But as I rushed past him a realisation dawned on me. I had been sucked in by the big city. I had become a huffing Londoner.
And I was shocked. Because that isn’t me. I am a happy-go-lucky, smiley, cool dude. (Stop laughing Kat, I am a cool dude).
What I most certainly am not is, a grey, hostile passive-aggressive town dweller.
And so I decided right then and there that I was going to do something about it. I was going to fight the London coldness and be, well, warm. I was going to be a nice guy. And there was one perfect way of doing it. I was going to go out of my way to help someone! That would make me feel better.
I looked around. Frantically. It is a weird feeling to be desperate to see someone, anyone struggling, just so you can feel good about yourself. But then it happened.
I saw her. An old woman struggling up some stairs with a suitcase, and I had never been as relieved to see a fellow human being suffering as I was at that moment.
I thought about approaching her and asking her if she needed help, before lifting her suitcase and carrying it up the stairs. Like Superman would have done. If he was wandering around the station at Walthamstow Central trying to prove to himself that he was still a nice guy. The old lady would be thankful and I would feel good about myself.
But then I stopped myself. I decided that I DIDN’T WANT THE OLD LADY TO THANK ME. I wanted to do a good deed for the sheer pleasure of doing it. Not for little old lady thanks. So I decided not to tell her! Instead I would take her suitcase up the stairs silently. Just be her anonymous saviour. She would never know who I was, and she would tell her grandchildren about the amazing hero who just appeared out of the blue.
What a realisation – to understand that you are bigger than those people who need gratification. Especially if it meant that the little old lady she was going to then, talk about me for the rest of her life.
So I approached the old lady from behind and then grabbed her suitcase. Silently. So silently in fact that she assumed that I was trying to steal it.
Which is why she screamed. Frightening me enough to drop the case. Which in turn burst open.
As the police came running towards me through the hurricane of undies that had been unleashed. I was stunned.
“I… I was just trying to help you,” I pleaded at the little old lady.
She looked at me and huffed.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Steve Hili