A Good Samaritan, but not a great one
An Irishman’s Diary about the pitfalls of casual philanthropy
A walk on the wild side in Dublin. Photograph: Getty Images
On one of those wild nights over New Year, I went for a walk down by the Liffey, where I spotted a man, clearly not well, slouched precariously on the river wall. Naturally, I decided to be a Good Samaritan and help him, although – to be honest – that wasn’t my first thought.
It wasn’t my second or third thought, either. Before resorting to Samaritanism, I hoped he was he was somebody else’s problem. Failing that, I thought if I approached slowly enough, an ambulance might reach him first. And finally, there was the prospect that he would revive, miraculously, and walk off before I had to get involved.
But none of these things happened. It was late, there was a gale blowing and, at least down this end – at Guinness’s – the quays were deserted. Meanwhile, there he was, draped on the low wall: his toes on the footpath, but his hooded head hanging over the other side, inches from the river, which was as high as I’ve seen it.
So with a sinking heart, I asked: “Are you okay?” No answer. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?” Still nothing – and besides, as I now remembered, I didn’t have my phone. Damn, I thought: the prospects of his early transfer to someone else’s jurisdiction evaporating.
I tapped his back a few times. Nothing. Then, just when I feared the worst, he straightened up dramatically and the hood fell away to reveal a face about half as old as I expected, and twice as healthy. A baby-featured twentysomething, he could have been my son.
Unlike the man in the parable, clearly, he hadn’t been beaten or robbed, except maybe by Dublin pubs. So, almost embarrassed at having disturbed his nap, I gestured at the stormy waters. Whereupon he focused his eyes and muttered something like “Wo!” – but in a foreign language – as if he hadn’t expected a river.
When I asked where he was coming from – meaning a pub – he said: “Sweden!” And when I asked where he was going now, he also said, “Sweden!”. So I broke it to him gently that he was in a country called Ireland, and that I was hoping he had a hotel here, or better still, some friends.
Unusually for a Swede, however, he seemed to have a total English vocabulary of about eight words, none of them forming sentences. No doubt his command of the language had been more extensive before the pub crawl.
But one of the words he did know was “money”, because when I asked him if he had any, he produced a €10 note in triumph. This promptly blew out of his hand, and the panic at seeing his tenner flutter away nearly sobered him, although not to the extent that it wasn’t me who had to chase it down Victoria Quay like an eejit.