Sunday, 27 January 2013

No takesies-backsies!

I once interviewed a man for an article in the Seven Oaks community newspaper, The Times. I had heard about him through my aunt who insisted that he was "the nicest man" she's ever met and everyone at her workplace was in agreement over that hyperbolic title. Apparently he is a retiree who spends his day at a shopping centre asking people if they needed help. He asked for nothing in return because all he wanted to do was help out. I thought that was an excellent feel-good, community story.

One day I accompanied my aunt to her part-time job, and she hailed down this man for me. He was a towering, white-haired, ruddy-faced, soft-spoken man. I liked him immediately. He did not speak English very well - he came from a country in Europe - but I tried to communicate my actions to him as simply and clearly as possible. I'm a student, I'm writing an article for The Times, would you be interested in being my interview subject?

"Sure, okay," he told me. Awesome.

I told him I'd meet him here at the mall tomorrow, and he agreed. Unfortunately, my plans had fallen through and we rescheduled for another time. I was disappointed at first, but also relieved that the interview was still happening no matter what date it will fall on.

When we did meet up, the interview lasted maybe ten minutes. I asked him simple questions. Where are you from? What did you do? Why do you come here and offer to help people? And so on. He gave me one- or two-word replies. It was tough trying to pull a story out of this man, but I think I managed.

After the very short interview, I thanked him and we went our separate ways.

Weeks later, I received an angry phone call from my aunt. She said that this man did not want to be in the paper and requested to have the story pulled out.

My first thought was, the story ran? I immediately checked the paper's website - and it had printed. But I didn't understand why the man was so adamant on having the story taken out. I hadn't written anything mean-spirited or wrong - according to the interview we had weeks ago. Confusion slowly melted away to anger. After an angry exchange of words between my aunt and me, I hung up and stewed over this situation for a little while longer.

Why did he not want to be in the news? I thought it would have been an honour to be recognized the way he was. And if he didn't want to be in the paper, he shouldn't have agreed! But wait, he didn't speak English well, so maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn't explain it clearly enough. Anger gave way to self-pity.

What's done is done, I had decided.

He was going to be yesterday's news anyway.

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