I don’t even know how to explain this story without wanting to scream out of frustration, embarrassment, and utter hilarity. Though this was a terrible Thanksgiving, it was probably one of the funniest nights of my life.
It all starts with living in London for my first semester of college, as part of the N.U.in program, and it was the first time I was away from my family for a major holiday. I hadn’t seen my parents in months and I was feeling thoroughly homesick. In class earlier that day, we discussed the ethics of society and how we treat people. One conversation that was sparked from this lesson was how we ignore homeless people. We talked about how homeless people are overlooked completely and treated as non-humans. We also watched a video of people reacting to a man lying down on the sidewalk in a clean suit versus in raggedy-looking clothing. Not to anyone’s surprise, passersby ignored the man that looked homeless, but approached the man in the suit. So all day, I was filled with nostalgia from the holiday, homesickness from not seeing my parents, and anger and guilt from thinking about how society, including me, treats homeless people.
After I got out of a three hour, late-night class, I walked to the grocery store to buy some dinner. During my walk, I heard loud, aching sobs ahead of me. The heartbreaking noises were coming from a popular spot for the homeless to rest at night. Today, it was occupied by a woman, who was shaking and crying into her hands, and a dog. As I approached her, I battled with the idea of walking past her because I wanted dinner, and going up to her and asking what’s wrong. I told myself, “Hey, you just talked about this in class. The least you could do is ask her if she’s okay.” I went up to her and asked her if everything was alright. She talked through her sobs and explained how a man came up to her and hit her on the head and stole her sleeping bag and blankets. As we talked about what happened, two other women also stopped. We all offered to get her to a homeless shelter, but she informed us that the shelters wouldn’t accept her dog. I suggested that I could get her some food from the grocery store and she told me she didn’t want food. The two other women and I stood there trying to help her, but ultimately it just seemed like there was nothing we could do. We gave her a hug and went on our separate ways. As I walked into the grocery store I began to tear up because I felt so useless and the situation felt so helpless. It was so cold, rainy, and windy that night, I just imagined her and her dog suffering all night.
Eventually I got back to my dorm and went to my best friend’s room and just sobbed to her as I told her what happened. We both sat there and looked at each other, tears in our eyes, and made the decision to gather as many blankets and warm clothes as we could. We accepted donations from our roommates and headed back to where I met the lady. When we eventually got there, she wasn’t around. We began to walk around looking for her. We thought, logically, she moved to a more covered area because it was raining harder. As we walked around, we asked another homeless man if he had seen this woman. He didn’t see her, but we talked with him for a little while and he wished us luck. After walking around the surrounding blocks around the spot, we asked another homeless lady who we saw often. She was outside of Burger King almost everyday. She was known to be very talkative and nice, so we thought we would ask her since she knows the people in the area. We explained the entire story to her, from start to finish.
Right at the end of the story, she said, “Oh! You mean Sue? Sue from Hammersmith? Oh yeah she went home.” Home. HOME. So many thoughts went through my head. “Home? But I thought she was homeless? She was sleeping outside with a sleeping bag. What is happening?” I filled up with frustration and anger that naturally manifested into laughter. I exclaimed out of frustration, “I got played!” Burger King lady echoed me, “Oh you got played real bad.” She then continued to explain that Sue was known in the area for tricking people into pitying her and giving her money. The police knew about her and actually had restricted her from the area because she would trick so many people. Sue had a home. She had a home in Hammersmith. No one hit her and no one stole her stuff. I got played. Later that night I went out with my friends and screamed about Sue from Hammersmith all night.
There is no moral to the story. I tried to be nice on Thanksgiving and it failed. I still believe we should treat all people with empathy and sympathy. My experience with Sue is not representative of all homeless people, simply because Sue wasn’t homeless. She was a con artist. And I was played.
Courtesy of Giphy