Harriet Walker: 'An act of kindness has forced me to reconsider my New Year resolutions'

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The Independent Online

At the risk of coming over all Blanche DuBois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. From the man who once saved me from the escalator's teeth when I fainted on the Underground, to the lady who explained how to work the unfathomable Berlin train ticket-bot without me even asking her, I owe them all a big thank-you.

I mention it only because we're all casting around for resolutions at the moment, and being nice to people I don't know strikes me as something easy to stick to and karmically useful.

I left my phone in a cab last week, only to have it returned the next day by a lovely man who then flat-refused to accept any sort of reward. "Oh, I didn't do it for the money," he insisted, horrified, as I tried to thrust a wad of banknotes into his hands. I felt like the crass oaf who offends his foreign hosts by tipping them or clearing his plate. The currency of kindness is one I'm quite unfamiliar with – I end up doling out far too much at once and looking insincere, or scrimping over it miserishly in case it runs out before the next pay cheque.

Earlier that day, I'd signed off a text (from a friend's phone) to the man with five kisses, before realising my mistake and sending another, more nonchalant, one to apologise. He must have thought I was schizophrenic.

"Your gloves are very big, aren't they?" he said when we finally met. He was right: my gloves are very big. They are furry mittens that could double as oven gloves for a bear. People snigger at them as if they're vestigial parts of a costume I have forgotten to take off. A friend refers to them as my "megagloves", which is fine by me, as I think they hide how big my hands are.

I had warned the Good Samaritan in an earlier message I'd be wearing them and that I was blonde. I'll never get over how flagrant a lie it is for me to describe myself as blonde, when I'm really muddy brown. Anyway, the description worked, he gave me my phone and waived his finder's fee, and I waved him off with a big furry hand.

I was amazed by how easy it had been, not only to get back my phantom limb, but to interact with a person I had no reason to be speaking to. I later found out on Facebook that we had a friend in common from university. "Oh, of course he returned it nicely like that," my caustic flatmate said. "He's One of Us, isn't he?" To clarify, she means he has a nice voice, wears shirts with jumpers and probably watches rugby on TV; she means it's likely I've sat next to him in a gastropub. But there's still a thrill in knowing that not everyone out there is predisposed to hate or disregard you. Or laugh at your gloves.