I was riding the tube home this evening, focusing intently on the work I’d brought with me to do… I was determined to finish before I arrived home.
About 15 minutes into the hour-long ride, a woman got on. I would not have thought to look up from the literature I was reviewing, except she said – in not a quiet voice – “I had a late Halloween party. That’s why I look like this. I’m so embarrassed, but it’s because I had a late Halloween party.” So I glanced up, as furtively as I could, and saw an older blonde woman with pink streaks in her hair and a unnaturally pink face. She was carrying a few puffy shopping bags which I surmised held her costume for said Halloween party.
And wouldn’t you know it, she sat right next to me! As she sat, she repeated her Halloween party apology. Also, she exuded a strong perfume of beer. I don’t like beer, particularly the smell of beer.
So I hunkered down and tried to focus on my work. This seemed like the better alternative – otherwise I might have stared. I did steal some glances her way and saw that her feet were also pink and she was wearing sandals. Her toenails were painted red. But really, I mostly focused on my work.
Then I heard it. A sniffle. I resisted the urge to look, but it sure sounded like a crying sniffle.
A minute later her phone rang. She answered in a quiet raspy voice which confirmed my suspicion. That’s how I sound when I’ve been crying. This is what she said: “I’m on the train. You know that. So I don’t want to talk right now.” No goodbye or farewell followed. She just hung up and the sniffling got louder.
I tried to politely ignore her, but the phone and sniffle cycle repeated itself a few more times as we rode into town. I got in my heart a painfully strong urge that I should offer to help carry her bags. But this is London, surely people don’t do this here. Plus, she was getting off at a stop miles away from my destination (I know this because she mentioned it on one of her phone calls). Plus, her bags were puffy and light and only slightly bulky. Plus, I’m shy.
And that’s the real reason I couldn’t offer. I was scared. And this made me embarrassed before God. I feel awful, seeing my weakness, my inability to respond. As she was getting ready to disembark, she accidentally knocked me with a bag and apologised. I said it was fine and I asked her if she needed any help. She didn’t hear me and I didn’t repeat the offer. I just watched helplessly.
As she got off, two things happened. First, I could swear that as she stood up she said, “I’m so scared.” Second, I could swear that two of the passengers who had been sitting facing her were giggling.