Monday, 26 August 2013
Suffer the Children
I had to pick up a prescription the other day and because it was going to be a bit of a wait, I decided to pass the time by getting a coffee. While I was standing in line I noticed a woman, not young, not old, but exceptionally thin, rifling through a rack and picking out an armful of free reading material (newspapers and the like) before circling the store in an agitated way - picking up almost every item on the display shelves as if she was desperately searching for something then crouching on the ground and contemplating what was in her hands. It was clear that she was not there to make a purchase and further, it was clear that she was either mentally ill and off her medication, or high on something other than life. I noticed many of my fellow patrons either openly watching her with disapproving stares (narrowed eyes, pursed lips) or stealing glances as she moved around the store before looking away or back at their phones or whatever screen they had nearby. I went up to the counter and asked the staff (who had been taking turns stepping out from behind the counter and observing her) whether they thought she needed medical attention. Their response was that she was "in there all the time" and they tried to keep an eye on her. While I was doing this, she walked out of the store and I didn't see her again. I don't know where she went or if she had anywhere to go. I don't know if anyone cared that she was on her own and extremely vulnerable. It was one of those situations where you feel wholly helpless and despite any good intentions, wouldn't know where to begin to intervene or if inserting yourself would do any good. It left me feeling unsettled for the rest of the day - like a puzzle you cannot solve, when a life depends on it.