It is generally accepted that only drunks and crazies as well as the occasional uninitiated strike up a conversation while travelling on the tube, London’s underground or metro system. By conversation, it means something other than asking for a piece of factual information, such as whether the train is going to stop at a certain station or not.
So when a woman with a whiff of craziness (and a trailing body odour) sat down on the seat next to me, and then proceeded to poke me, while I was travelling home on the District line a couple of weeks ago, I knew I was in for – shall we say – an interesting journey. It is hard to describe this person, but imagine if you will an illustration of a witch from the children’s books you’ve read when you were young, and you would not be too far off.
At first, she was talking to herself, not an encouraging sign, muttering darkly how disgusting it is to use mobile phones on the tube (this happened on a section of District above the ground). Then a mother with a baby on her back and another young child boarded the carriage at the next stop, and they sat across from us. It was at this point the woman poked me. Look, aww, the baby, he’s cute, isn’t he? I just nodded and muttered yes. I looked up and across for a brief moment: the baby’s eyes met those of the woman, and the baby instinctively and instantaneously flinched then clung tighter to his mother.
After a couple more stations, during which I pretended to read a newspaper in order to avoid further conversation, the woman poked me again. Disgusting, she hissed. Look at her, over in the next carriage. She was pointing vaguely somewhere towards the adjacent carriage. Can you believe it? That’s the SECOND bar of chocolate she’s eating. No wonder she’s fat. Look! How do you get THAT fat? I identified the target of this woman’s fury. Yes, she is not thin, but that really is not my business, so I kept quiet. However the woman kept on raging. Someone should go up to her and take the chocolate bar away from her!
At this point, there were three stations left until my destination. I was not getting into a debate with this woman, which would have been utterly pointless, but at the same time I was not going to agree with her for the sake of convenience. It is a weird thing: perhaps I should have moved seats, as there were others available, but I did not feel that that would be the right thing either. Perhaps I ought to have argued, because her point of view was not something that should be accepted. I essentially ignored her and kept pretending to read the newspaper, while debating this little moral dilemma in my head.
In any case, soon afterwards, my ‘interesting’ journey was finally over, and hopefully I won’t see that woman again.