“I mind my own business and I don’t eat junk food,” had said Besse Cooper when asked by the Guinness Book of World Records for the key to living a long life. At the time, Besse Cooper was the oldest person alive at the age of 116 in the year 2011. (She passed away shortly after that). There is much wisdom in Cooper’s advice, and I don’t doubt that her mantra of minding her own business saved her from unwanted stress and unnecessary drama of gossip. And by not eating greasy junk food, she kept a lean and healthy body for all those years. Woe is me, for I’m afraid I’ve broken her mantra on many occasions.
Sitting in a pub away from home and enjoying the best double fried chips and a pint of beer with my dear companion, I am relishing the finger licking and lip smacking goodness of one of the high caloric, cholesterol encouraging pairing of “junk” food. I’m minding my own business, yet I can’t help overhearing the conversation of a well-dressed man talking to a young girl about a job offer. His language is smooth, clean and educated. He is convincing her, with tactful coercion to engage in sexual activity for payment, not for himself, but for others whom he would recommend. Basically, he is a procurer; a pimp. She is an attractive, younger woman/girl who is not quite convinced and is making a few excuses about how she isn’t sure she should leave her existing job of housekeeping in a hotel. The slick man is working to recruit her, telling her it wouldn’t interfere with her current job. She could see to pleasing a customer or two, or, at most, three a day, and still keep her job if she wanted to. He continues to procure her interest by adding that she needn’t do any soliciting. He would send her the customers some of whom might conveniently be old men and would be less “work.” “It’s easy good money,” he says. “I send you the customer, you do the job, we split 50/50 on the fee.”
The conversation goes on for almost 45 minutes. I’m on my second order of fries and drink. He’s still insisting that she gives it a try, take a chance, her fears are unfounded, and that he’ll take care of her. She’s still hesitant… or is she playing him along? Is she being taken advantage of, or is she taking advantage of the situation?
Meanwhile, my outrage at the situation is steeping inside like a dam holding back the waters. If I dare open one small hole, one tiny fissure, the pressure of that outrage would destroy and flood everything and perhaps jeopardize the girl’s safety. I’m about to burst. My companion holds me back. He says she sounds quite capable of handling the situation. “Maybe she’s undercover,” he says hopefully. He tells me to consider who is at risk. “You live life passionately, and sometimes, that can be dangerous,” he says. Fine! I could just pretend I didn’t hear the conversation and simply block it out. It’s none of my business. But that would negate everything for which I stand. All these years, I have been advocating against cultures that supports violence and coercion, human trafficking and the use and abuse of women and children. I can’t put a filter over my ears and eyes and ignore the situation by saying it’s none of my business, regardless in what part of the world I am. Minding my own business doesn’t mean evading responsibility or ignoring the world around me. It means knowing what I stand for, distancing myself from the unimportant and unnecessary drama of gossip, and doing what needs to be done by holding myself accountable to my ideals.
I search the internet for a help beyond the streets hotline. The man steps away from the table to get the girl another drink from the bar. My heart is pounding. There’s no time for conversation. I write the number of the help line on a cocktail napkin, turn around and place it by her hand, next to her phone. I see her expression of surprise, and then a faint smile of apprehension. I can’t honestly say that I feel victorious, but I must trust she’ll do what needs to be done in a way that serves her best.
I return to minding my own business and eating more chips. Unlike Besse Cooper, I have once again shortened my life years.