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There was commotion outside Bethnal Green tube station this evening.

Walking from the station to the nearest bus stop, I spotted an elderly man sat in the middle of the road, surrounded by passersbys and the driver of a black minivan. Cars swerved around him, cyclists slowed down to take a good look, pedestrians lost interest in where they were going or the conversations they were having on their mobile phones to stop and watch with furrowed brows.

The man, it seemed, had been jaywalking with some other people when he was knocked over. An elderly Polish lady touched his shoulder and he swatter her away. She crossed over to the bus stop and told someone: “he’s rude! He’s rude!”

The black minivan driver rubbed the old man’s back, got into her car and drove away. New people arrived and formed a human shield around the man. One bespectacled gentleman got off his bike and became a traffic warden. A few of them spoke into mobile phones (emergency services?) The old man remained seated on the cold, wet asphalt, hunched over, cradling his arm.

Buses arrived and people climbed in. I decided to wait for the next one, as did the Polish lady.

“Did anyone call an ambulance?” I asked her.

“He’s lying!” she blurted back. “There’s nothing wrong with his arm! I touch it. I touch it hard. If it was broken, he would feel pain. He feel nothing. He’s pretending.” [1]

“Oh,” and I looked back at the old man (now turned into a con artist in my eyes) and the group of people (suckers.)

“I was behind him when he fell. Nobody touch him. He just fall by himself. He make this to get money from the government.”

“I’m sure the ambulance crew will figure this out when they check him.”

“I fell down my building’s stairs once. I get bruises on my back. I can’t bear even a small touch. So that’s how I know he don’t break arm. I touch and he feel nothing! I know what to do in this country. You go to hospital and you get doctor to write everything down. That’s how you get money from government. But he wants people to believe what he says, and not what the doctor says. He do the wrong way.”

A much emptier No.8 bus arrived and we climbed in together. Her Oyster card was a Freedom Pass. I climbed upstairs and sat on the seat right at the front, where I could look down on the man as the bus drove by. He had now been moved to the median strip. He looked a bit confused.

[1] Recreation of the lady’s Polish accent may be slightly incorrect due to author’s incapability of remembering verbatim what she said.
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