‘This city desert makes you feel so cold, it’s got so many people but it’s got no soul’ Jerry Rafferty, Baker Street
Last Friday I was getting the tube home from work and as normal, I got on the Jubilee Line at Bond Street. It was about 5.30pm and it was packed full of people. I was one of the first into the carriage and behind me there was the usual melee of people trying to squeeze in.
As the beeping began and the doors closed, it was clear that there was some kind of problem. I heard a woman from the platform shouting ‘Let me in, open these doors…I am his carer’ with clear panic in her voice. From within the carriage, you could hear barely understandable moans of someone clearly distressed. As the train pulled away, the woman on the platform was shouting ‘get off the next stop, GET OFF AT THE NEXT STOP’.
Alone in London
It was only after we had set off that I realised that there was a young disabled man on the carriage who had become separated from his Carer. He was all alone in a packed tube train. Although there were about 20 people between us but I could just see him from where I was standing.
He was clearly agitated and very worried. He was glancing around anxiously and making low moaning noises and sudden jerky movements.
The train rattled nosily towards the next station Green Park.
I craned my neck to see if anyone was helping him – especially those standing next to him.
Some other passengers were clearly aware of what had happened. You could sense the familiar awkwardness that occurs when people know they should do something. But no one did do anything. They buried their noses in their Evening Standard or their Kindles, fiddling with their smartphones or talked with their friends.
No one did anything to help him. No one said anything, no one offered any support. It was a packed train but he was alone.
It made me so angry.
What should you do?
As it pulled into Green Park I squeezed through past people and got off the train with him. I introduced myself and we sat down on the seats on the packed platform. He told me his name was Richard and he kept saying ‘I got split from my carer, I got split from my carer.’ I asked him if he wanted me to sit and wait with him. ‘Yes please’ he said plainly ‘I am a bit worried.’
The next train was not due in for 4 minutes and Richard began to relax a bit as I tried to reassure him. All the time I was silently thinking ‘I hope she arrives on the next train’. If I am honest, I began wondering where this all might lead to, about what time I might get home and what it would mean for my Friday night plans.
When the next train pulled in it was packed and as people piled out I stood on the seat trying to look see her get off the train. But I could not see anyone. Once again, the platform emptied and Richard’s anxiety re-emerged ‘Where is she? Where is she?’
Then finally, she turned up, breathless and a bit embarrassed. Richard and his carer embraced at being reunited. They both looked mightily relieved.
I tried not to show it, but I was hugely relieved as well. And I got a hug too.
‘The appalling silence of good people’
I don’t want to re-tell these events to make myself out to be a hero. I wasn’t – all I did was talk to someone and it only took up 5 minutes of my time.
But no one else did anything to help Richard. I am sure the carriage was full of good people – people who are kind to their friends and family and would like to see themselves as caring. But this goodness was not enough for them to do anything. Maybe it was busyness, a long day, eagerness to get home, maybe it was nervousness about getting involved or self-consciousness around people with disabilities. There are always plenty of reasons to walk by on the other side.
I know this was just one encounter in a particular time and place. But it was like a little illustration of the selfishness and apathy which helps maintains injustice. As well as Burke’s famous quote, it reminded me of Martin Luther King’s words written from prison in 1963:
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Related articles: Apathy is Happy (when it wins without a fight)