Judging by appearances

The Cast Stone

SURFACE TENSIONS  None of us likes to be boxed off by our surface appearance, but sometimes our own prejudices can make us forget that.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

It’s evening, it’s Galway and it’s a few weeks before Christmas. I’ve just exited a well-known retail outlet that confidently says it carries the world’s most exclusive luxury brands. I’m extremely happy to leave it behind and escape into the real world again.
Earlier in the afternoon I had been watching football in Salthill when a voice on the phone encouraged me to visit the shop and pick up some foundation. That’s where the adventure began.
I was given clear, concise and clinical instructions, leaving no room for error, so once the game was over and interviews complete, I faced the chariot towards the city and the chaotic Christmas cacophony awaiting me there.
That’s when the dance between perception and reality began.
I had been at work and was clothed accordingly – boots, a big jacket, cap and lots of layers. Writing about football can be a cold, damp, messy business.
Finding a parking space was difficult at that time of day, but I had a mission to accomplish and everything else was immaterial.
As soon as I stepped through the doors of the shop (I call it a shop – others may have more upmarket descriptions) I was hit by a number of thoughts and experiences. It was warm, busy, bright and beautiful – an avalanche of aromas cascaded towards my senses and there were perfectly uniformed staff everywhere.
The security guard inside the door looked at me as if I had arrived from Mars. Seemingly, layer-laden, lumbering lads like me were a rare sight in such an establishment. An aesthetically perfect human approached and asked if I was okay. They probably thought I had taken a wrong turn on the way to a Polar expedition and needed to be returned to my carer urgently.
However, I knew exactly where I was going and exactly what I wanted. As I said, my instructions had been clear, concise and clinical, leaving no room for error. I found the counter I required, delivered my request as I had been taught and acquired the little pot of foundation from an extremely helpful and enthusiastic young man.
I was very proud of myself and headed for the exit with a spring in my step. The security guard even opened the door for me as I approached. He was probably delighted to see my layers and I leave as it would free up room for two or three perfectly proportioned people to enter.
I headed off with a sense of delight in my heart, chuckling to myself about the way I had seemingly been judged by eyes in that shop. I was still riding a wave of triumph a few minutes later as I moved towards the carpark and the waiting escape-shuttle.
That’s when I passed a young man lying in a doorway. He was lying on a sleeping bag, his gloved hands under his head, which was covered in a woollen cap. He had a takeaway cup in front of him with a few coins inside, but he wasn’t even asking for money, he seemed to have given up.
In the seconds it took me to pass by I had a lengthy conversation with my inner self. I quickly asked and answered a number of pressing queries.
Should I give him money? I don’t have any. I only use a card these days. Should I go to the ATM and get him money? No. It’s a long way back to the ATM, and you’re nearly at the car now. Should I go into a shop and buy him a sandwich, tea and a few sweets? No. He’s probably a drug-addict and will have no heed on food. Surely, he’s cold, maybe I should talk to him and ask is there anything I can help with? No, don’t be silly. He’s not your responsibility. If he worked hard like you, he wouldn’t be lying in a doorway.
Sadly, and to my shame that awful, callous inner-me won the argument on that wet Saturday evening. It was easier to keep walking, and that’s what I did. But the image of that young man has stayed with me since, and the awful, callous inner me has been banished to the depths of Hell.
I’ve thought a lot about my experiences that Saturday afternoon and how others seemed to judge me for how I looked, yet I did the exact same thing just a few minutes later. That will not happen again.