It was the summer of 1981 when I met Charlie at London Victoria coach station en route for a package tour of Benelux countries. Charlie, a white man, aged about 70, who looked every inch a destitute and an abandoned soul, asked me to let him carry my baggage to Victoria Railway station fifty yards away in exchange for a few pennies. I declined his assistance as I was a tourist travelling on a shoe-string budget.
By the time I landed back to the Victoria rail station from Europe tour I was precariously low on cash. It was 12.45 P.M. and I had to catch the 1P.M bus for my sister’s place at Newquay for which I had a prepaid return ticket. But I found to, my dismay, that on that Sunday the bus was to start from another place across the street and I didn’t know where it was.
I grew panicky, for, if I missed that bus I would be near penniless on the streets of London. Just then, as if from nowhere, appeared Charlie who seemed to know my predicament instinctively. He threw my baggage into a trolley and said “follow me, Sir,” He led me to the Newquay bus, its engine idling, waiting for that extra minute for the missing passenger.
With a sigh of relief, I emptied the contents of my wallet (2 bucks) and offered it to Charlie. But he refused my ‘largesse” with a smile and said ‘It’s a pleasure to be of help, Sir”. And he melted into the crowd leaving me burdened me with shame.
Ever since that time, I became more sensitised to the plight of the old destitutes and I always tipped such people generously whenever I came across them.
In a way, I have been repaying Charlie’s debt.