The Good Samaritan tried to blackmail me. I wasn’t having it
Jennifer O’Connell: I know where you work, she said. You could lose your job
Assertiveness lesson: You’re a very silly woman, the Perhaps Only Somewhat Good Samaritan said. Photograph: Getty
We were discussing assertiveness as we sat around the table eating pizza and olives. Specifically, we were talking about how to raise our daughters to be assertive. Or we were trying to. It wasn’t easy, with the bangers booming and the doorbell ringing every three minutes.
We took it in turns to answer to the procession of zombie soccer players, Donald Trumps, eerie broken dolls, dead princesses and infants in Paw Patrol costumes, smiling angelically as chubby fists alighted like miniature excavators on the bowl of Halloween treats. The Donalds were the worst.
It’s not my house, I took to saying to the children as the pile of sweets diminished from bountiful to miserly to it’s the 1980s again. One jelly bean each, I bellowed. Put that second one back. Leave something for the other children. If you’re not in costume you don’t get anything. Manners, or you’ll get nothing.
I’mgonnabuildawallandMexico’sgonnapayforit, they yelled back.
You’re a very silly woman, the Good Samaritan said. Do you know how much money is in this envelope?
Between interruptions Emma was trying to tell us a story. She had just returned to work after a dose of flu. As it was her first day back, and as there had been a bank-holiday weekend, several days’ takings were waiting to be deposited at the bank. On the way she decided to stop at a cafe. Her head was still pounding. The virus was coursing through her veins. You know the way it is, she said. We did, we said, as olives popped like fireworks in our mouths.
Between one thing and another she didn’t notice the envelope was gone until the receptionist rang from the office where she worked. But it was Emma’s lucky day. A good Samaritan had phoned to say she had found the envelope in the cafe and was holding on to it for Emma. The receptionist passed the number on. Be careful, she added ominously, as Emma hung up.
What did she mean, we wondered. I didn’t know, Emma said. Yet.
Emma phoned the Good Samaritan’s number. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, she began. I never say that in real life, she informed us. But I had a feeling.
You’re a very silly woman, the Good Samaritan replied instantly. Do you know how much money is in this envelope?
Emma did not. Of course I know, she said.
Does your boss know you’ve lost it?
Maybe we can arrange to meet somewhere, Emma suggested.
Most people would give a reward to someone who found this much money, the Perhaps Only Somewhat Good Samaritan suggested.
We can talk about that when we meet, Emma said.
Ten per cent, the Goodish Samaritan said.
They agreed to meet in an Aldi car park on the other side of the town. Emma brought her daughters as back-up. They squared up to each other across the car park, Emma and the Visibly Reluctant Samaritan.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Emma tried again, holding out her hand for the envelope.
You’re a very silly woman, the Reluctant Samaritan replied. There’s a lot of money in here. I counted it.
She waved the envelope around, but she didn’t seem inclined to hand it over. Emma told her that she had been very sick with flu, that she still wasn’t feeling right, that it was not like her to lose it but she was just grateful it had been found by someone honest.
If I phone your boss right now and tell him what you’ve done you’ll lose your job, the Furious Samaritan shouted
The Reluctant Samaritan was utterly unmoved. I know where you work. I could phone your boss, you know, she said. And then you’d lose your job.
Why would you do that, Emma asked.
We need to discuss my reward. In Germany I’d be entitled to 10 per cent.
Sitting around Emma’s kitchen table, we googled this. It seems to be true: in Germany you’re entitled to a tenth of any money you find when you return it to its owner. But in Germany they probably don’t make a habit of losing money, Sean, Emma’s husband, pointed out.
In that moment Emma felt her resolve tighten. Yes, but we’re not actually in Germany, she said, standing among the abandoned trolleys littering the car park of the German discount supermarket and feeling the national pride swell in her. In this country we’d return the money because it was the right thing to do.
Or we’d steal it, we added, in her kitchen. True, Emma acknowledged. But I didn’t tell her that. She was trying to blackmail me. And I wasn’t having it. I just reached right across and took the envelope from her. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, she said, turning on her heel, and walked back to the car.
If I phone your boss right now and tell him what you’ve done you’ll lose your job, the Furious Samaritan shouted, whipping out her phone and snapping photos of Emma’s number plates as Emma prepared to drive off.
Not likely, Emma replied out of the window. As he’s also my husband.
Not likely, Sean agreed.
Emma’s Angry Samaritan didn’t get her 10 per cent. She didn’t even get the €20 Emma had in her hand, ready to hand over. Emma’s daughters watched the whole thing from their ringside seats in the back of the car. No further assertiveness training needed, we decided.