The man I couldn’t help

He was standing by the payphone outside Bentleigh Post Office, as I checked my post box about 45 minutes ago. He might still be there now. Asking passers-by for money to make a long-distance call, regarding his father, who had passed away.

Was he telling the truth? I don’t know. I told him I had no coins — which was true. He asked if he could borrow a $5 note, to pay back tomorrow when his pension arrived. Yeah right — you couldn’t use that to make a phone call, and I’d never see it again. “I’m sorry,” I said, as I walked away.

But he cut such a pathetic figure. I hadn’t seen him around before, trying it on. Perhaps it was true? How gutted would you feel if it were you, needing to make that phone call in that situation? Yet I wasn’t willing to just hand him my mobile phone.

I went home with my groceries. Karma. Guilt — despite my usual policy of never giving to beggars; giving to charities who are in a better position to know who’s genuine and who isn’t.

No coins in the house. Maybe I could offer him a payphone card, and see what he said?

I went back out. Had a look. He was still there, asking people. I went to the newsagent to buy him a payphone card. They were shut. Went to Coles. No, they said, they have prepaid mobile phone cards. They suggested a post office (shut) or a 7-11 (miles away; I was on foot). Went to Safeway. They don’t sell them anymore either. Nowhere else was open.

Now I’m back in my warm house. I’m sorry mate, I can’t help you. If you’re genuine, then I hope someone else can.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

7 replies on “The man I couldn’t help”

Why not just offer him your mobile phone to make a quick call while you stand right next to him.

I could almost guarantee he would turn you down as he was trying it on.

yes, very sad. It’s a real worry and makes me angry.
Ten years ago we wouldn’t be using terms like “payphone” in Australia. I realise that’s what Telstra now call public phones, but it’s another example of Americanisation of Aussie life…

Some guy came up to me and asked me for spare change. Said he wasn’t going to shit me, he was going to buy a beer. I gave him the money simply because I liked the honesty.

Saw that bloke at Huntingdale station on Tuesday. He gets around. Clearly my 50c didn’t go too far.

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