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Sam Delaney: 'My feelings of pride crumbled quickly into shame'

When a weary stranger trespassed onto his garden bench, Sam Delaney became a reluctant character in his very own biblical story

No trespassing sign

Image: Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

It was Saturday afternoon and I was sitting at the dining table having lunch with my family. Suddenly, this middle-aged woman strolled into my front garden and casually took a seat on the bench that sits right in front of the window. This woman looked older than me, probably in her early sixties. She was not elderly or decrepit; she was quite smartly dressed and respectable looking. There she sat, dead casual, as if she were in her own front room about to watch Corrie. She was separated from us only by the width of the double glazing. I couldn’t believe it. 

I tapped on the window with my knuckle. She turned her head slowly towards me, seemingly irritated that I had interrupted her nice little sit-down. I gawped at her with an expression that said: “Do you realise we are here having our lunch?” I was hoping that this was all just a simple misunderstanding; that she had mistaken our garden for a municipal area. But no. She looked straight back at me, eyelids heavy with exasperation, as if to say: “Chill out mate, I’m only having a quick rest.” 

I was discombobulated by this. Sure, I have a bench in the front garden which, I suppose, is a bit of an open invitation to weary pedestrians. But there is also a fence that divides my front garden from the street which – I’d always assumed – would make it clear that the bench was meant just for residents and legitimate invitees. Clearly, she saw things differently. 

I waved her away with my hand. Still, she didn’t budge. Instead, she held up her hand to me, fingers splayed, and mouthed “five minutes?”. We were just tucking in to our sandwiches. We also had a pot of tea on the go. (I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: we are pretty bloody fancy in my house.) All of this would take at least five minutes to consume. I just wasn’t comfortable spending that amount of time under the gaze of this uninvited spectator. So I waved her away again, this time more vigorously and with a furrowed brow that left her in little doubt as to how serious I was. 

Reluctantly, she got up and shuffled out of my garden, then disappeared slowly up the street. The kids looked relieved. For a moment I felt good about my militant stance and the outcome it had secured. I was vindicated. I had prevailed. Then I looked at my wife and she chuckled at me, just a little. My feelings of pride crumbled quickly into shame. 

Who was that weary traveller? Why did she require rest so urgently? What would it have cost me to let her sit on my bench for five minutes? It’s a stupid bench anyway. No one ever sits on it. We got it off my mother-in-law about eight years ago when she was about to take it to the dump. We thought it would look nice. But it’s just clutter, really. At least this woman, whoever she was, was getting some use out of it. Who was I to dismiss her so arrogantly, like King Charles grumpily waving away a faulty fountain pen?  

I should have gone outside and spoken to her. I should have asked if she was all right. Maybe I should have even asked her in for a cup of tea? I had panicked. I had become confused and felt strangely threatened. I thought she was taking a liberty. 

I was reading about the way they try to deal with violent offenders in jail. There’s a theory that all acts of violence and aggression are rooted in shame. Perpetrators are invariably triggered by words or actions that make them feel embarrassed; as if someone had made them feel ‘less than’. This sense of shame makes them feel threatened and angry. Sometimes, this sparks violence. 

Thankfully, I’m not really wired that way. At least, I’m not a violent person. But I do get angry when I feel someone is taking the piss. Trouble is, I’m not that good at distinguishing between someone who is taking the piss and someone who is just, say, having a quick sit down in my front garden. 

Anyway, it felt like my own little biblical story: The Tale Of The Knackered Pedestrian And The Selfish Land Owner. I didn’t come out of it looking too good. But maybe it’s taught me something. Next weekend I’m taking that bench up the dump. 

Read more from Sam Delaney here. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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