Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

She was crying.

I had been on my way to meet Mr Hippy (the rough tough ice-cream man with a heart of gold), but dropped him to take her for a coffee, which she wound up paying for as I didn't have any money with me. I'm such a great friend.

In her broken English, she explained that a man had rung at her door and asked if he could make a phone call. She'd let him in to do so, and before leaving he'd stolen her mobile. He'd later rung her up on her landline demanding money for its return. She'd gone to the police, who'd picked him up. Later he'd rung her again with another demand. The police had done nothing. He knew where she lived.

She was quite adamant that she wasn't going back to the police again, as they had done nothing the first time. They just hadn't been interested in the blubberings of a non-fluent Chinese girl. I told her to let me take her back, to explain it to them myself, but there was one flaw in my plan.

Mobile theft is so common, the police had probably labelled her "just another stupid Chinese tourist." If I went in, they'd most likely label me "just another stupid English tourist." There was only one thing for it. I needed a kiwi for credibility. It was time to call in the services of Mr Hippy.

Mr Hippy had another plan. "Fergit the cops, I jes' wanna smesh this guy's face in!" Before I could present the "What Would Jesus Do" argument, Mr Hippy was planning out an intricate sting operation, involving setting my Chinese friend up in Burger King, where she would confront her enemy, at which point Mr Hippy (and, by implication, myself) would leap out all fists blazing.

It struck me there were now 5 characters in this sitcom - the ballsy thief, the helpless Chinese girl, the bumbling cop, the fist-happy ice-cream man, and me. Had Goble really become the voice of reason? This must have been a later episode, after the writers had got tired.

Somewhere along the line everyone managed to agree that my original plan was the best one, so we finished our drinks, thanked my Chinese friend for buying them, borrowed some money off of her* and headed back to the station.

(* This bit is not actually true - we stole it.)

As we crossed the road, I remember saying a quick prayer for her.

After the adverts we walked onto the police station set, looked at the Chinese policewoman behind the desk and my friend gasped "Do you speak Cantonese???"

Suddenly they were both off in their own little world babbling Cantonese, or Mandarin, or gibberish, or Welsh, or whatever it was. Little good that it did. We then went downstairs to meet 2 cops who were almost, but not quite, completely uninterested in her.

No, they wouldn't phone the guy, no they couldn't tape her phoning him, and no, they couldn't even listen-in to such a call on another extension because “we don't have the facilities.” After an uphill struggle against such reluctance to even try and help, we finally convinced them to look at a folder from that afternoon.

Discovering to their immense surprise that the guy actually had been charged that afternoon, and was due to appear in court the next week, they both just looked so...proud of themselves. Suddenly their bleary apathy transformed into such self-heroism. They had gone out and caught the bad guy. Well actually they'd opened a folder from that afternoon and read a piece of paper in it. Well actually we'd pretty much done even that for them, but they thought they'd done it, and they also thought that made them pretty good at their job.

Not wanting the paperwork was bad enough. Not wanting to talk to or help her was worse. Not caring about my friend's shattered feelings, just because her broken English was a little hard to understand, was so unjust it still makes me angry.

It's so simple to just stop and listen to someone. If they've said something one doesn't understand, then one is almost there. Why give up when one is so close? How on Earth did apathy ever become more attractive than helping someone?


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