Firstly, let me say I’m sure I was justified in throwing the old man with the cane to the ground. Well, pretty sure. Sure enough that I’m not wracked with guilt. And I didn’t throw him to the ground so much as let him fall. I know that justifying even letting him fall is going to be a tough sell, but please reserve judgment until you hear the story.
I was headed back to my house and emerged from the metro at Anděl a bit hungry. Anděl is one of the shopping meccas in Prague and a transit hub, but not a place you would find many tourists. It’s a very busy place all day and evening. Before I caught my connecting bus, I decided to have a bite to eat. The smell emanating from a nearby street vendor drew me over, and I procured a large steaming sausage in a small baguette. I strolled slowly past a tram stop on the way to my bus, stopping every few steps to take a bite of this artery-clogging Czech staple.
As I passed in front of a small tram-stop shelter, an old man with a cane got his feet and began to shuffle toward me on an intercept path. I stopped to let him pass in front of me, but he veered slightly and came right up to me. As he reached me, he started to fall forward, and as he did he grasped my arm and jacket to support him. I tried to hold him up with my right arm as I held the mustard-smothered sausage in my left hand up and out of the way like some sort of Czech Statue of Liberty.
My brain, which seconds earlier was occupied with daydreams and plans for later, processed this unexpected development. What is he doing? It seemed as if he sought me out. Memories from a lifetime of experience were accessed, analyses performed, correlations made. An explosion of neural activity as the conclusion neared: …the man veered toward me…falling just as he reached me…both of my hands are occupied…where is my wallet?… Conclusion reached. A little push of adrenaline, heart rate up, respiration up, pupils dilated. All of this in a tiny fraction of a second.
I pulled my arm away and stepped back. The man fell sideways to the concrete, slamming his head against the side of the shelter. Aghast, I thought, “What have I done?” The man looked up at me with surprise, spreading his hands as if to say “what the…”, but also looking much more alert now. Two women, one young and one middle-aged, sprang to his aid, the older one scolding me in Czech. I blurted out “He ran into me!”. Not a very convincing argument, I know, especially since I had about six inches and fifty pounds on him. But it was probably better than saying “M—r tried to rob me!”.
The older women looked surprised to hear English and responded “Oh, I’m sorry”. She and I helped the man to his feet, with me still stupidly clutching the sausage. As we got him vertical, he started to fall onto me again. I put the sausage on the ground and held him up until he stood unaided, all while looking around for his accomplice.
After I was convinced he wasn’t going to take a third dive I picked up the sausage and walked toward a trashcan. I deposited my snack and decided to keep walking. I passed a policeman walking with purpose back toward the shelter. Nothing good could come from sticking around. The man was up and seemed none the worse for wear. I was a foreigner who just threw an old man to the ground. “He was what? Trying to rob you? Him? And you’re not carrying your passport, as required by law? Please come with me.” I kept walking and disappeared into the throng.
Which leaves me with the obvious question in my mind. Was he really trying to rob me? I’ll never know of course, unless I see him putting on the same act with some other unsuspecting victim. I do know that I won’t be getting another sausage at Anděl, and I walk pretty quickly past the tram stop now, head down.