It’s rare for us to notice something change before our eyes.
I boarded the train at Oxford Circus. Tired, and ready for my bed after a long day at work and a few drinks, I selected a vacant seat by the doors and nestled my head against the glass as was my habit, whenever an end of row seat was available. It made it easier to nap and kept me from being sandwiched between two strangers on the busy tube each commuter journey to and from work. With my headphones in and my audio book selected (Lolita, Nabokov). I nestled in and calculated how much longer before I could put the day behind me. With Jeremy Irons whispering the story into my ear, I looked up and observed my fellow passengers. Most of them were reading a book or newspaper or tapping away at a smart phone.
The girl sitting across from me caught my attention. She was young, early twenties with rich, dark curly hair and bright coloured patterned fabrics draped her lean figure. She caught my eye and smiled, just a quick, thin-lipped grin as one woman travelling alone recognising another. I nodded and turned my attention back to my story, my eyes fixed on my shoes until the movement of the train lulled me into a light sleep.
The sudden jolt of the train leaving White City woke me. My head snapped up quickly and with a mini panic that I had slept through my stop, I realised I was still a few stops away from home. The woman I had seen before was still in from of me, her attention on the phone in her hand. As she fingered the touch pad on her phone, her lovely face underwent a transformation as I watched. The previous expression of calm friendliness gave way to an expression of tension, as though her features had in a moment, melted into a mask of pain and ugliness. Tears welled in her eyes and her mouth distorted into a twisted and jagged line over her wobbling chin.
So quick was the metamorphosis that the initial instinct of concern gave way to discomfort. What could I, a stranger on the tube say or do without intruding? I diverted my eye and took a sudden and intense interest in a scrap of paper on the floor. It was a discarded advert or newspaper filler. I looked up again, determined to offer a word, any word that would come to ask if she was ok. As I begin to speak, we pulled into the next station and she was off. She moved quickly from seat to door and as the door alarm whistled its intent to close, I looked out the rain smudged window after her and wondered what any message could have said to trouble her.
It got me thinking of a few things. For one, what had I witnessed in that moment that I would never know or influence or understand? What was the story there? I wondered what would the end of that personal story be?
We see things we’ll never be a part of or understand all the time, but I think it would be interesting to observe the world around us with greater care and try to glean what is happening behind the tears and chuckles and frowns we come across every day.
Try this. Watch people for 20 minutes. Pick a few that catch your eye and try to work out what is behind their facial expressions. Try crafting a story around what you see.