An encounter with an extraordinary gentleman on the London Underground

On the London Underground today I took out a book to read, and just as I was about to start reading, I shut the cover and put it back in my bag. I didn’t feel like reading. I felt like looking. Looking at the other passengers and seeing and imagining what kind of stories they told. It’s funny; well maybe it’s not funny, but it’s certainly interesting how we invent entire life stories for people. Just a quick glimpse and we think we know them.

I like to do that. Make up stories of the people I see on the London Tube.

There was a girl sitting to my right. Chubby. Self conscious. Her fingers painted black and on the train surrounded by so many people, I felt she almost wanted to disappear into a shell. Hide almost. The complete opposite was the pretty one next to her. And she knew it. Every day men would give her glances that validated her. Everyday she got an ego boost but it had now become addictive. It was her daily fix. If she didn’t get her daily dose of validation, if men didn’t notice her enough, then she too, wanted to hide in a shell.

How thin are our shells.
How narrow the the sea that separates happiness from sadness.
How fickle is the foundation that supports our self esteem.

We can never have enough validation. Our appetite for it is infinite, yet the supply finite. Even Bono probably can’t get enough. How long before you get used to the screaming fans, the cries, the queues – how long before you start thinking they’re all faking it?

Back to the train. I look at the people and wonder what they are thinking at that moment? Are they thinking i wonder what the other people on the train are thinking?! What thoughts i wonder are passing through them at that very moment? Each person in the carriage x the number of carriages on this train x number of trains on this line x number of trains in London = a multiverse of thoughts.

And that’s just on the Underground network! What about all those above ground, walking to work, strolling through parks, in pubs, bars, restaurants, in taxis, in cars, in office buildings, at home, at the hospital, at college at universities…


Suddenly I see a man. He is sitting opposite me. He is dressed well with a navy blazer, light tan summer trousers and a twinkle in his eyes and just a hint of a smile. Just a hint. I look at him and I am totally transfixed by the expression on his face. He is totally relaxed. Calm almost Zen like. He reminds me of a rock in a torrent, the rock fixed in place, as the water circles around it in whirls. This man knows stuff! He has that look about him. It’s hard to say exactly but I feel as if I am staring at the face of a modern day prophet. He is looking around at the people and you get the impression he has all the time in the world. That he is not affected by time. He looks almost….yes! That’s it! He looks almost amused as he sits opposite me on that carriage.

Amused at the world, at humanity, at the human condition. Aware but amused nonetheless. He has the secret of life sparkling in his eyes, and when I look at him again, he is smiling back at me, and then he winks.

And I wink back.

And he winks back too…

Ah, he is my reflection!

My reflection in the window opposite. It is I.

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