The Waiting Room
I was sat in a train station waiting room yesterday. Everything was cancelled because of a “severe engine failure,” and over the tannoy it was announced that “the wait for those travelling by train will be at least 90 minutes.”
Boo. Hiss. Yeah, yeah.
People complain about travel delays but secretly we all love it. It’s like winning a prize – The Prize Of Unexpected Free Time.
It was cold on the platform, no place for any sane person to stay for long. Almost everyone shuffled through a red door into a small, whitewashed waiting room. We each found a seat on the metal benches that lined the walls, drawn to them like animals to the ark. Except there were apparently 280 animals on the ark and only about 50 of us.
A young woman came in. She was talking about her art foundation degree on the phone. Everyone else in the room found something to quietly occupy themselves with – from sitting, to listening to music, to tapping away on phones, to reading, to sleeping.
She walked into the nearly full waiting room, looked left and right, and then eyed one of the few empty seats, in between two gentlemen in their 70’s. They were both keeping themselves to themselves. It would be quite ridiculous to describe them as monsters.
“Uh, so is anyone sat there then?” she asked one of the men hastily so it wouldn’t interfere with her important call. The man looked up and shook his head, indicating the seat was available.
She sat down and sighed loudly into the handset.
Her phone conversation was loud enough to take over the room. You know how sometimes you can’t help but glance at a car accident when you drive past? Well you couldn’t help but hear her talk.
“Oh shut up! My coursework’s still not done and it’s fucking in tomorrow.”
“I told you, my train’s been terminated.”
“No way. Of course I’d prefer to be with you two instead of sitting in between these two monsters.”
It was that last line that did it.
I’ve been thinking about what monsters are ever since.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a coffee shop in Manchester as the Charlie Hebdo shooting started to be reported. The breaking news pings started to buzz on my phone. People on laptops began to look shocked. Someone (maybe he was a journalism student) even shouted “are you seeing this?” across the room to his friend at the counter as though he was an EP on CNN. One guy didn’t realise what was going on, until he got up quickly from his computer to go and call a friend who was in Paris.
Most days aren’t like this. Usually they blend into one. We wake up a week from now and nothing seems to have changed.
But every so often, something undeniably sudden and man-made happens. Our lives are hit by a big event, an attack, something which – even though we may not have been there – means we won’t be the same again.
School and cinema shootings.
Journalists shot dead for satire.
Aid workers decapitated for helping people to eat.
It’s when these things happen in places that are unexpected that we are most effected. Because all of us are guilty of conveniently glossing over incidents in places where ‘it happens all the time.’
Sometimes shocking events happen when we’re young, and there are side-effects. Our worldview hardens, we develop a pessimism and a fear that was never there before. Gone go the days when Roald Dahl stories scare the kid. Their mythical monsters under the bed are replaced by actual monsters in the world.
It’s sad that each of us develop a list of terrible moments that we’ll always remember.
The towers on 9/11.
The bus and tubes on 7/7.
The 2011 Norwegian attack.
You name it – the list goes on and we all have one.
What is a real monster? Monsters are responsible for moments like these.
A Brown Leather Bag
Today is a time of 24/7 news. Whenever ‘something happens’, millions of our phones beep with a notification. It’s a sound so frequent that it would be easy to start believing that the world is full of monsters.
It’s not. It’s really not.
Back in the waiting room, the young woman started to rustle around in her rucksack. Her coursework wouldn’t finish itself. But something was missing.
She tapped on her phone, in panic, and lifted it to her ear.
“Mum, it’s me. Can you run upstairs and check my room? Have I left all my art stuff there?”
“All of my pencils?”
“Shit! I’m totally, totally screwed then.”
The man she was sat next to, the monster of moments ago, smiled. ‘That’ll teach her for calling me a monster,’ I imagined him thinking as I caught his gaze.
She hung up the phone, slumped into her uncomfortable metal chair, and looked genuinely distraught. Tears seemed imminent but there wasn’t a strong feeling of sympathy in the air of that small waiting room. She had got what was coming to her.
The man leaned over and reached down into his brown leather bag. He grasped hold of something. Maybe his lunch. Maybe a book.
He pulled out a square metal tin and opened it. It made a pop sound just before he passed it over to the person who’d called him a monster.
The tin was full of pencils. Every pencil a budding artist could ever need.
“Have them,” the monster said, “I have a room full of them at home.”
Rarely do we hear about the good stuff in the world. Yet most of us see it happen time and time again with our own eyes.
It’s important then, in a world where the news seems consistently horrific, to remember our own experiences. Things which we’ve learned and seen and witnessed first hand. That’s the stuff we must hold on to. It’s these experiences which offer hope, even when we’re captured by the darkness that surrounds all the horrible shit on the planet.
There’s bad and evil in the world, but it’s by no means prominent.
Most people are passengers, not monsters.