Once upon a time I gave up on people

Ever since I was a child, I loved observing humans. I loved the way they talked, the way they walked, acted, thought, innovated, struggled, prevailed. Whenever there was a problem that needed solving, I was there to help. Of course, most of the time I made a bigger mess than needed. Thus, over the years, close family and friends discouraged my actions telling me that sooner or later I will be disappointed, that some day I will understand the cruelty of the world we are living in and give up. I knew they were probably right, but….

Friends broke my heart, colleagues took advantage of my willingness to always be there and still it seemed I would never learn, using what others called my favorite excuse: ” I never expect anything back, therefore I can’t be disappointed.” Until one day…

I was in my last year of University, preparing for my dissertation and also had just got admitted to a second University that year. The Universities were 300 kilometers apart, so my life was mostly spent in between 3 hour train rides. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. On that particular day, I had just taken an exam and ran to take another one the next morning. I got on the train and tried to find an empty compartment to study. The train was packed. I was just about to give up on my search and light a cigarette on the train’s hallway, when I saw him. An old men, sleeping in an empty compartment. I grabbed my backpack and went in, filled with hope. He would sleep the whole way, I would be able to study in peace. After an hour I felt confident. The texts weren’t that hard and if I was lucky I could probably even close my eyes for half an hour.

The old man started twisting and turning. I looked at him for five minutes trying to guess what kind of man he was. He looked over 60 years old, his breath reeked of alcohol. Still, there was something in his expression that made me smile. One more twist, one more turn. A bill fell out of his pocket and landed right in front of my shoes. It was the equivalent of 150 euros. I was a student, money were always a luxury. I could have paid ten train rides with that money, eat for a month, buy new books, go out with my friends, eat, eat, eat. I could have… but maybe he could have done the same thing. Maybe that was the only money he had for the entire month. Maybe…

I picked up the bill from the floor and reached for the old man’s arm. At first I shook him gently, but when he didn’t even move an inch I pushed him a little harder. Startled, he jumped up and looked into my eyes confused.

“I’m sorry to wake you up” I said ” but this fell out of your pocket”.

He grabbed the bill, shoved it deep into his pocket and asked: “Are you just giving the money back to me?”

I nodded in approval, smiling. What followed marked me for weeks, months to come.

“Are you stupid? Are you crazy? How can anyone be so retarded? You are 20 something right? From the books in front of you I guess you are a student. You don’t have money! You could spend the next week living like a queen!”

I was shocked, but he continued to shout.

“You, my dear, are the perfect example why humanity doesn’t work! Do you expect a thank you? Do you think that if you did this good deed, life will be more gentle or fair to you? Do you think I am grateful? You are just another hypocritical little bitch who will regret every act of kindness you did in your life. This money is drinking money for me; it would have been survival money for you. Or who knows, you may as well be a drinking bitch too!”

After screaming the last sentence, he turned around, laid back in his seat and closed his eyes to go back to sleep. For him it was over; for me it was just the beginning. Was he right? Was my family right? Were my friends right? Was I stupid? I tried to shake the weight of his words away, but I couldn’t stop feeling disappointed. Maybe I did expect gratitude? Maybe the smile a normal person would have given me for returning their money would have been my reward. Maybe humans weren’t as fascinating as I thought. Suddenly a wave of anger ran through my body. I wasn’t going to help anyone, ever again. It was decided; I was to blend in and believe that people were cruel and sooner or later they will hurt you for no reason at all.

I kept my word for almost three years; three years thinking only about my needs, not caring about others, pretending to be someone else. Until one evening….Walking back from work with a friend, I saw a drunk old man, muttering words, unable to stand up on his feet. I passed him by, but couldn’t help to look back. My friend told me to walk away and stop thinking about that foolish drunk. “What if he has a family that is looking for him? What if he is lost?” I whispered almost to myself.

Pointless to say what I did next but from that moment on I stopped thinking about what other people expected from me. Would I be disappointed? Probably! Am I a fool? I am almost sure of that. What I am certain of is that humans are worth it; that maybe I hurt someone once; that I surely disappointed a lot of people.

Humans are beautiful. They just lack confidence in themselves. Humans are beasts. They need a constant reminder to look into their souls. Who knows, maybe that old man from the train was so angry because someone reminded him that humans can also be kind. And yes, humans will hurt you for no reason at all, but do you expect them to be grateful or just follow your own path?

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