Yesterday I was on the GO train sitting next to the exit door, holding my bike, listening to music. As the train made its approach to Union Station, a man approached the door and waited for the train to come to a stop. He turned to me to say something.

—“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you because I was wearing earphones, what did you say?”.
—“Oh, I asked you what you were thinking about, if you don’t mind telling me”.

I chuckled. How daring of him to ask a stranger what he was thinking. I knew all too well that the answer to his question could have been denied without explanation, but I wanted to remember what I was thinking just moments ago myself.

I made an effort to jog my memory. He said it was OK if I didn’t want to tell him. I assured him it was OK, I was just trying to recall where I was when he interrupted me, and it came: “I usually live in Mexico, my home is unattended and a friend broke into it, that’s what I was thinking about. Why do you ask?”.

He said he was sorry to hear that. I told him it was OK. He said he asked me what I was thinking because sometimes he could hear the thoughts of people, and he thought I was thinking negatively about him. “Oh, you probably saw a grimace on my face and thought that…”—“no no no I heard you think, but clearly I was wrong, I’m sorry that happened to you”.

And we went on chatting for what remained of his presence on the train, which was not much.

I withheld some information of the contents of my thought, as it would have been difficult to explain: when they told me Óscar had broken into my house I immediately assumed he had gone inside to steal, but days later my sister called me and told me that Óscar had made a makeshift altar in the dining room, and served two cups of whiskey which had remained unfinished.

I understood then that his reason for breaking into my house was not stealing. Just like the man in the train, I had interpreted his intentions from what was outwardly visible.

Óscar suffers from many mental ailments, among them schizophrenia. When his mental state deteriorates he tends to perform rituals to speak with the absent and the dead. He must have “spoken” with me, and I must have given him permission to take some of my stuff, and that’s how he justified to himself taking stuff from my house. Óscar has a childish conscience, he would have withered in guilt if his actions had come without “justification”.

You see a man on the train grimacing at you, and you think he hates you. A neighborhood camera captures your mentally ill friend breaking into your house, and you cry betrayal. What we think about the motives of others is unreal. Even my current explanation of the events is unreal, I will only know his real motives when I speak with him.

This is not to say there’s anything that could save him from being strongly reprehended. It is to say, the story in your head is not the story that happened, listen first, then act accordingly.