Imagine. You’re on public transport and someone lights a cigarette, blowing a cocktail of carcinogens and nicotine into the air of your bus, tube or train.
Who are you?
(a) the person trying to catch the offender’s eye so you can give them the most cutting of looks – before looking away quickly in case they see you giving them the most cutting of looks;
(b) the person looking around for the red emergency handle because you know shit’s going to go down;
(c) the tut-tutting person who doesn’t look up but needs to make their displeasure known; or
(d) the person who challenges the rule breaking offender.
(I’m assuming for the purpose of this narrative none of us are the offender.)
Imagine further an elderly couple deciding to be people (d) – the people who challenge the rule breaking offender. Actually, the Mr decided to be people (d) for the both of them.
Lord knows, because they only had about two teeth between them, which I silently prayed they would be able to hang onto before their journey was out.
Thankfully, the rule breaking yoof was as high as a highball and seemed only faintly amused at the elderly gentleman’s attempts at chastisement.
Looking more closely, said elderly gentleman had a somewhat military bearing, discernible even in his civvy street threadbare cardigan, so he was probably doing what came naturally when faced with the enemy.
My only input into the proceedings was to tell the Mrs quietly to control her husband; that nothing going on right here, right now was worth ending their journey in a hospital for. The common-sense of this seemed to prevail and the Mr eventually sat down; although I’m inclined to think it was probably his bad leg giving way as his body language was still one of steaming and righteous indignation.
Later I got to thinking about who I was on the list.
You see my worry in this age of unpredictable people is taking any stance likely to get my head kicked in. Far from being a coward, I however do not gamble on what people may or may not do. For one, that assumes people think the way I/we think. As outrageous and unmannerly as this person’s actions may seem to us, they must have some narrative going on in their head which made it okay to ignore every ‘No Smoking’ sign en route to their seat.
We may also be dealing with someone who is unbalanced (them not me), and who knows where a situation could go given that unknown cocktail of ingredients.
Innocent people find themselves in danger or shot down just by going about their business, so actively choosing to get involved with ‘The Nutter on the Bus’ (thank you, Jasper Carrot) does not strike me as brave.
Sure, in my younger days I may have taken a different stance – the stance likely to get me involuntary plastic surgery – but no more. I stay out of it, or help where I can as safely as I can. Whether that be counselling an elderly couple to let it go, or watching pan-faced as the man in front of me unzips the front of his trousers and starts to fill his underpants with groceries. Uh huh that happened, but not by word nor deed did I give any indication something unusual was going on – albeit my eyes may have watered a little when the marrow went in.
I’m therefore the single mother who gets off miles before her stop when a situation ‘kicks off’ and waits for the next bus, tube or train. The single mother who may alert the authorities to a situation, but is happy to leave the heroics to staff as she endeavours to get home to family body, soul (and head) intact.
Published in The Eastern Daily Press (abridged) 23-Aug-16