I would have walked right past him had two other people not stopped to help him up. And when I saw them stop, I knew they must be foreigners. Only foreigners would stop to help a disheveled drunk with a bleeding head wound in the frosty streets of Tallinn's Old Town.
"Are you ok? How can we help you?" said one foreigner, a man.
"Your head is bleeding! Do you need help? What happened?" said the second, a woman.
"I have a passport!" slurred the drunk. He looked to be about 50 years old, and the top of his shirt was unbuttoned. When he leaned forward, I saw the blood stains on the medieval stone wall.
I stood back, ready to assist. The man turned to me. "Can you speak Estonian?"
"Yeah," I said. "Kas ma saaksin teid aidata?" (Can I help you?) I addressed the drunk in Estonian, but knew it was no good.
"I have a passport!" he said again and reached towards his inner pocket.
"Oletko suomalainen?" (Are you Finnish?) I tried in my best Finnish accent.
"Yes, I am Finnish," he nodded. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm just," he paused to hiccup, "fine."
"Maybe you can call someone?" said the foreign man.
I went into a nearby shop and approached the clerk, a young, dark-haired woman, who followed me outside with some tissues for the drunk's bleeding head.
"But what am I supposed to do?" she panicked.
"I don't know. Call the police?" I said.
"The police?" she accosted a round, bearded man in the street and they began to speak in Russian. The man called to someone while the foreigners helped the distressed Finnish drunk up.
"I'll just go back to my hotel," he said, staggering towards the street. "I'm fine, I have a passport," he lunged towards me.
"I have one, too. Are you going to be ok? It's cold. Kylmä," I said.
"Yes, yes," he buttoned his top button. "Fine, just fine, just."
The burly Russian man hung up his phone. "Is everything going to be ok?" I asked him.
"Yeah, he'll be alright" he said and walked away. The clerk also returned to her shop.
"Are you sure you'll be ok?" asked the foreign woman.
"Yes, I have a passport, I am going to my hotel," the drunken Finn slurred and limped towards the Town Hall Square.
On the way up the street the foreigners introduced themselves: two tourists, a husband and wife from Oslo. Oslo: I had been there before. I recalled there were drunks and junkies aplenty lining the streets from Prince Haakon's doorstep straight down to the train terminal. And yet these two cared enough to help some stranger in a foreign city. Were the Norwegians just the penultimate specimens of human dignity, or was it just by luck that these two kind ones had passed the drunken Finn, Tallinn's own Little Match Girl?
I bid the Norwegians God Jul and felt ashamed for not having stopped by myself to help a fellow human in distress. Had it not been for the Norwegians, I would have stepped over him like a crumpled, day's old copy of Postimees. Was that the spirit of Tallinn in me, or the spirit of New York, or just the plain old mean-spirited spirit of indifference?
(Itching for Eestimaa, http://palun.blogspot.com/ )
Christmas in Tallinn