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¿¡Alguien que entienda español, por favor!?

by

Late this afternoon I found myself at the Yonge & Bloor subway station on my way home. I made my way down to the eastbound platform and just as I was about to get on the train, I hear a man crying out in desperation for someone who understands Spanish, "¿!Alguien que entienda español, por favor!? ¿!Alguien que entienda español, por favor!?"

Sure, this is Toronto and there are tons of people who speak Spanish here so he probably would have been fine, but I thought to myself, I'm not in a huge hurry, why not help the guy out? So I didn't get on the train, made my way towards him and asked him how I could help. Of course, I'm thinking he only understands Spanish and just needs a translator or maybe directions.

He tells me, "I'm desperate, come…" so I follow him to the subway map posted on one of the pillars. Then he starts, (in Spanish of course), "Look, I may be black, but I'm not a bad person. Just because I'm black doesn't mean I'm a bad person." Weird. It wasn't as if he was trying to convince me though, it was more like he needed affirmation of this. Then he tells me "Color doesn't matter. Right?" So after assuring him that I didn't care that he's black and with that out of the way, he then continues to explain his situation…

You see this map, this is Yonge & Bloor here, and I need to get to Museum station, which is here. When I get there, I have people waiting for me that will give me something to eat and a place to stay for the night. But I only have $1.25 for the bus and I need to get there tonight. The people waiting for me told me to just ask someone for help, and they will help me. No one's going to leave me stranded. So can you give me money for the bus?

I explained that since he was already inside the station, he could just get on the subway and if he needed to take a bus from Museum station he'd only need a transfer. I don't think he was expecting that answer, so he quickly changed his story and tells me, "No, I need money for the GO bus."

When I responded with "sorry I don't have any change – I never carry cash on me and always pay with debit or credit card," his demeanor changed immediately and I realized he was just running a scam trying to get spare change from people. I suppose he figured that if someone was nice enough to offer help with translating, they'd be more likely to give him money?

It was a very weird situation – I had good intentions and was willing to help the guy out when he seemed so lost and desperate. But in reality, he was just trying to get people to listen to his story and to establish common ground by asking for people who spoke Spanish. He was trying to make me feel obliged to give him money, almost as if it was my duty to help him out since we both spoke the same language…

After he realized that I wasn't going to give him anything, he didn't waste another second and proceeded down the subway platform trying to sound desperate as he yelled out again, "¿!Alguien que entienda español, por favor!? ¿!Alguien que entienda español, por favor!?"

Very weird. I should have just gotten on the train. And what was that "Look, I may be black, but I'm not a bad person." all about anyways?

Like I said, there are tons of people who speak Spanish here in Toronto. I wouldn't be surprised if this tactic proved very successful!

Once I got on the train and was on my way home, for some reason, it reminded me of a comment that was submitted on my article "Spare Change?" from back in 2008: "Wow, that'll make you lose your faith in humanity real quick."