x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The kindness of strangers is heartwarming

A simple act of kindness and a request to 'pay it forward' has gone some way to restoring my faith in humanity.

Having spent much of my life in large cities in the West, I have become accustomed to treating strangers with either indifference or outright suspicion. It's a sad state of affairs, I know, and I have become more paranoid the older I get. This distrust was cemented when my bag was snatched from my arm a couple of years ago, so my faith in mankind is not terribly strong.

I lost my wallet the other night. In fact, I hadn't even realised it was missing until I checked my phone, which had been on silent, and found nine missed calls and six voice messages from a mobile number I didn't recognise. I listened to a voicemail and could only make out the words "credit cards" on the fuzzy line. Odd, I thought, confused. Why would the bank be calling me at 9.30pm? I returned to the restaurant I was at to pay my bill, only to find my wallet missing. After a moment of initial panic (this was not the first time I had lost my wallet or phone in recent months) it dawned on me that this must be what the calls were about.

I quickly called the number, and the man at the other end of the line said he had my wallet and would bring it to the hotel in half an hour. I saved his number and called him Wallet Man. After 40 minutes passed, I began to worry. Experience has taught me that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. But five minutes later, Wallet Man called to say he was outside the hotel reception.

He and his wife were waiting for me, explaining that they had found my wallet on the ground outside the hotel and had found my number on a dry-cleaning receipt. They were most anxious that I check the contents, but I assured them there was no need. I trusted them. I thanked them profusely for their kindness, but sensed that it would be inappropriate and insulting to offer cash by way of a thank you.

The next day, I texted Wallet Man to thank him and his wife again and said I'd like to send flowers to express my gratitude. Wallet Man texted back the morning after, saying he and his wife accepted my gratitude, but requested that instead of sending them something, I do a good deed for another, to "keep the chain going". He also asked that I pray for him, as he had just had a job interview. And so I did.

While this act of kindness from strangers has not restored my faith in humanity entirely, it has gone a long way towards it. I will endeavour to do the good deed Wallet Man requested, and hope that whomever I help does the same.

This idea to "pay it forward" - the theme of the 2000 film of the same name starring Kevin Spacey - and to create a chain of good deeds and acts of selfless kindness that would eventually make the world a better place is an attractive one, but one I never imagined working in reality. We will have to wait and see.

Wallet Man said he would let me know if he succeeds with the job. I hope to hear from him.

Married Life will return next week