Pay it forward
A well-dressed businessman in the queue in front of me at Liverpool Street, apparently asking for money from the middle-aged couple in front of me. “Two pounds, that’s all I’m askin’. I just wanna get home!” They look at him with disdain, even disgust, then turn away. But I recognise the New York twang, and even more that sense of traveller’s despair: I know it all too well myself. Easy to guess what’s happened: he’s run out of sterling just at the wrong time, and doesn’t want to change yet more dollars for currency he’ll possibly never use again. On reflex, without a moment’s further thought, I dive into my wallet, pull out the two coins, hand them over. A surprised look on his face, then thankful, as he moves straight to the ticket booth, pulling his wheeled briefcase behind him.
We meet after the booths. I forestall any excess of thanks: “just do the same for someone else sometime”, I say. It’s obvious he’s heading for Heathrow, but doesn’t know how to get there. “Circle Line, change at South Kensington for the Piccadilly Line”, I say; “I’m going part that way myself, just follow me, I’ll show you where.”
Perhaps a good thing: the platform’s heaving. Didn’t know that today is the London Marathon: definitely not a good day to travel! Third train through is Circle; we squeeze on, and start chatting.
He’s a pastor, he says; Presbyterian. Been over here for the week, to Cambridge, for a conference. On preaching. Went well, but just wants to get back home to Newark. The near-side suburbs, seven or eight miles out from New York City. And yes, he knows the weird rules about ‘pay it forward’: “you’ll be in my sermon this Sunday”, he says with a grin.
The mob gets out at Tower Hill: after that we can breathe easier, and talk easier, too. And then it’s my turn to get out, at Embankment, heading off to Waterloo and Paris for my own somewhat unexciting conference this week. I remind him to change at South Ken, and then he’s gone. A nice guy, for all our wildly different worlds and worldviews. And a great conversation, too: well worth that mere couple of quid!