Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When you do someone a favour.

My grandma had a phrase, which I think might have been in yiddish, but I can't remember it, but it went something like, "when you do someone a favour, you should give them a stone to hit you." Something like that, anyway.

Someone in my parents' community told me this story.

He was an accountant. It was the eighties. Business, generally, was good. And it was the days of old-fashioned client handling; your clients came to your son's barmitzvah and your daughter's wedding; you visited them when they were sitting shiva. It wasn't just a professional relationship, and it wasn't about huge firms and anonymous partners signing off the file that the underlings had done the work on. It was about really having a relationship with your clients, sticking with them through good and bad, understanding their business, having their best interests, rather than your MLRO requirements or the Institute's risk assesment practices, at heart.

So this accountant had a client. Let's call him Harold. Harold was an old-fashioned survivor-type of Eastern European extraction, and he ran a large, sucessful business, although not without the help of his accountant.

One night, mid-winter, the accountant gets a call from Harry. Harry's still in his office, and sounding strange, almost drunk, certainly not quite himself. It's not clear what he's called for. When asked, he says he's OK. It's late (for the eighties), maybe ten-thirtyish.

The accountant puts the phone down and says to his wife, "I'm worried about Harry. He doesn't sound right." And he got up, and got dressed, and drove into town to Harry's office.

History doesn't record exactly how he got in, but he got into Harry's office, and found him slumped on the desk, having had a stroke. His accountant called an ambulance.

Of course, I don't have to tell you what could have happened, if his accountant hadn't turned up. He'd probably have been found the morning of the next day. Who knows in what state.

Weeks later, Harry returns home. It was quite a serious stroke, and his judgement may have been impaired (we'll never know for sure the inner workings of his mind). And a short while after that, he leaves his accountant. Finds a new one. One with whom - presumably - he doesn't have backstory.

I don't know if this story is about human frailty. Or embarassment. Or the limitations of friendship. Or about, when someone's seen your darkest places, maybe you just don't want to be reminded of it.

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