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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Little things?

Five pence. There are times when that makes all the difference - needing cash to pay for a parking fee or a packet of aspirins, for example. But on the whole, is it worth the energy of bending down to pick up the coin? Actually, I bent down to photograph it, but didn't pick it up which seems doubly wasteful. It's not as if someone in greater need is likely to find it as the back wheels of my car and the front wheels of the neighbours' SUV are on either side. Still. There's something I find curiously appealing about coins on the ground. The little man made artefacts that are not thrown away but that somehow become embedded in the landscape. Or, in this case, the suburb-scape.

I recall a poem very vaguely that referred to the beauty of unexpected things: the rainbow sheen f oil on a puddle of gritty water on the pavement; the starry glitter of broken glass on the side of the road. And isn't there, somewhere, a video of a plastic bag as if dancing in the wind in a graffiti-painted tunnel or underpass? Not that one can approve, of course, of spilt oil, smashed bottles and dropped bags, but even so... there's something.

Out walking you sometimes see lost objects found and placed in a position of prominence: the child's glove fished from the bramble-patch and carefully placed on a gatepost; the horse's protective leg-wrap retrieved from the track and hung over a fence; the knitted scarf, damp and leaf-littered, draped across the side of a bridge. Just in case the owner returns. 'Ah! Clara's mitten!' Delight at the rediscovery of the disappeared. I like to imagine that they'd care, to match the care of the finder, the draper-over gateposts.

Sometimes I have found things and made them mine. A hair band, a neck warmer, a twenty-pence piece. Once I found and was able to return a dog's leash.

Once a man outside a station at night returned to me a half-finished packet of cigarettes that had dropped from my bag. 'Hey, girl!' he called and I did not respond. I don't know exactly what I thought, but there were, I think, two thoughts that rushed in and influenced my refusal to hear: the uncertainty over whether he meant me and the fear of a man in the winter-dark of a not-so-nice part of London on a Sunday night.

He called again, angry now, 'You dropped your cigarettes!' and I turned. He flung the packet at me, saying something. And though I don't know what I knew what he meant, for what he meant was this: 'I was doing you a favour but you ignored me because of the colour of my skin and because you think that people with skin like mine are bad and dangerous. You are that type of person and I have disdain for you because you are prejudiced.'

Now, it is possible that I had, below, I hope, the level of my consciousness, realised or assumed from the voice, the turn of phrase, that he was indeed a person of colour. And though that would have given me no conscious reason to ignore him, perhaps it did feed into an unacknowledged bias and prevent me responding to him initially. I do not know. But as soon as I understood what he said, what he meant by whatever it was he said, that possibility flooded me with shame.

More than shame. It was like I had to accept that I did not know who I really was, what I really thought. I had to accept that I might be a worse, a baser person than I had assumed myself to be. I had to accept that my reasons are not always bound to reason. That my motivations can be some way distant from what is really causing me to act in certain ways.

What other secret beliefs are at the foundation of my worldview? Beliefs that I might disavow or simply be utterly ignorant of? How can I ever know if what I do is what I have cause to do on the motives that I believe I ought to act by? Who is this 'I' anyway? The part that knows-not or the part that knows but doesn't tell?

This is not a little thing. For all the big things that I may wish to do may be based on something as egregious as that possibility of an awful, an unjust, an irredeemably immoral assumption that some people are more dangerous than others.

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