Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Someone Else's Story

I often have slightly heroic fantasies during the early-morning rush hour. They involve doing things like rescuing someone from a gang of gangliness by running down the steps at Ramillies Street and shouting something unintelligible, so they think a lunatic's after them and run away. (God forbid I'd actually go all "Batman" on their arses.) More often, it's about doing things like pushing someone out of the way of oncoming traffic รก la Ryan Gosling saving Laurie Penny, or just seeing someone I know crying on the street and giving them a hug and a hot drink which I somehow pull out of hammerspace for them.

I want to be helpful, I suppose, rather than heroic. I make no pretensions towards being a potential JLA conscript, but I can do "helpful", to a point.

And yet when I want to intervene most, I just can't do it because I suddenly don't think I have the right.

The other day I was travelling home late at night (or it could have been mid-afternoon; it's difficult to tell with these 3pm sunsets), when I overheard a conversation somebody was having on the 'phone in the seat behind me. It wasn't difficult to overhear her as she was practically shouting down it, and it wasn't also difficult to divine exactly what was affecting her.

This particular girl, evidently, was having massive problems with her love life - and, evidently, she was mortified to find out that whoever she was seeing was actually married with children, and that she was thinking of leaving him. The person to whom she was speaking, whom I'm assuming to be a sympathetic person, like a friend or relative, was on the receiving end of a barrage of controlled emotion, what with her deciding that she was going to leave this man and find someone who loved her exclusively, not just use her as a method of getting away from his wife and children.

This jogged the incident in my past in which my sister started dating* (*sleeping with) a married guy, which apparently ended peacefully and without incident (to my great relief), but my heart went out to this unknown girl on the train. She was clearly upset, and she was doing something which (I assume) is a very brave act. She also appeared indecisive about it. I had no impulse to ignore, as my ILB senses told me that I needed to say something. To tell her that it's all right. To tell her that she's right to do with what she's doing, and that she has every right to make decisions about her own relationships. Or just to tell her that, however she feels now, with hindsight, this may well change.

But I didn't say anything. I didn't even look around. Because, as much as I really wanted to help, I had no right. It was, after all, a private conversation about something of which I have no knowledge... however loud she was. Tense, uncertain, I sat in deep thought for a while. What would I say were I a friend of hers? What's the back story? How did it start... how was it going to end?

Out of nowhere, her midriff appeared right next to my face. I leaned backwards in surprise, before realising what she was trying to do. My immediate thought was that she had somehow felt me wanting to talk it over with her and had leaned over for a chat, but - as it turned out - she was just trying to see which station we were at.

I'd been counting and gave her the name of the station. In a clear, calm, reassuring voice. Trying to say everything that I wanted to in three words. I don't think she got anything other than the station's name from me, but she thanked me... and at the following station, she walked off the train, with a swift, purposeful stride.

I spent the rest of the journey trying to reassure myself that I'd actually done something helpful for the stranger having a bad day. By the time my own journey came to an end, I'd managed to convince myself that not getting involved in something to which I am totally unconnected was probably the best course of action, and that giving her the name of the station was the right thing to do.

But I still felt unsettled by it all. Because I'd have liked to be able to do more.

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