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Photo credit: Lifehack Quotes 

Yesterday I got the bus into the city, as I usually do for work, gym, job interviews, whatever. The bus was quite full and I had a heavy bag filled with food, gym gear and a change of clothes for work so I was pretty chuffed when I scored a seat. Almost immediately upon sitting down, a young man in front of me turned around and held out his hand, “Hello, my name’s Julian. What’s yours?”

“Natalie,” I said. I shook his hand and then promptly went into default mode; headphones in, stare at phone screen. He wasn’t dissuaded.

“Where are you going?” I told him I was going for a job interview. The woman in front of him told him to tell me good luck. He did. I said thank you.

“What are you listening to?”

“The Black Keys” I said and he asked if he could listen. I passed over my headphones, my usual mild germaphobia squealing with dismay. He liked The Black Keys. Listened to them for perhaps a few moments too long.

I ended up spending the entire 20min bus ride chatting to Julian. I came to the realisation that he had an intellectual disability (is this the right phrase? Definitely don’t want to offend anyone). He was with his carer doing transport training where he learns to pay attention to landmarks and passing scenery so he can tell where he is and know when to press the button to get off at the right stop.

While he was talking to me, his carer would occasionally interject with ‘Where are we?’ and he would look around and try to figure out if he needed to signal the bus yet. As we got closer to the city, she coached him with place names like Edgecliff and Kings Cross. At one point, she told him to pay attention and he got cross and said he could talk and concentrate at the same time.

“Can you?” she asked. That made him pause for a bit.

We talked about remote control cars and his Labrador Marlow that I thought was a real dog but turned out to be a small figurine that he loved and took everywhere with him. His carer held it for him while he was on the bus. He’s getting a new dog soon, a German Shepherd called Pouncer, I think. We talked about our phones (he was excited to have an iPhone and wanted to know where I got mine) and he asked if I caught the bus often at this time. Did I have a boyfriend? Could he have my number? Yes, I said. And no.

The last thing he said to me as he got off the bus was that maybe if we saw each other on the bus more and got to know each other, I would give him my number. His carer smiled at me, seemingly grateful that someone had been polite and friendly to him. When he was gone, the woman next to me said, “You handled that well”.

I said thank you but it made me think. How else could I have handled it?

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Photo credit: Lifehack Quotes

I grew up learning to be polite, to have manners. To speak when spoken to and treat others how you would have them treat you. Granted, I haven’t always been perfect at this but, when it comes to strangers, I find it hard to be rude. I can’t hang up on cold callers. I will always say hi to someone if they approach me on the street. Before iPods and iPhones, I was a sucker for those people that sell charity sign-ups in public places. I give up my seat for the elderly or the pregnant. I say sorry and excuse me and thank you and have a nice day on the street, the bus, in the supermarket, wherever warranted.

But I’ve noticed that not many people do this nowadays. A stranger talking to us is cause for suspicion and fear or ridicule. Basic human courtesy is dying and the world is a shittier place for it. If me taking the time to talk to Julian on the bus, instead of just staring at my phone as I would usually do, is cause for congratulations then we’re in dire straits indeed.

I don’t mean for this post to sound preachy or self-congratulatory. It just struck me how alone we can sometimes be, even when surrounded by people. And we make it worse by living in these little bubbles that we resent anyone touching. Even the most harmless people. Sometimes especially them.

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