About ten days ago I had surgery.
It's a fairly basic procedure; one i've had a couple of times before. Keyhole fixing of problems on the inside. It's not a massive deal, except that I am especially restless at the moment and I am not a good patient at the best of times.
So, a few nights ago, after leaving the house just once in four days, I ventured out to fulfill an appointment - a speaking engagement of sorts. it wasn't going to be a big deal. I'd done it a stack of times before. District line from Monument to Sloane Square. I'd take it easy.
Except: service disruptions.
Packed trains, no seats, jostling, having to reach up to hold on, stop/start. and me unable to really pipe up and say 'hey - i'm not well, lemme sit down'. It wasn't an obvious injury, i was shy and, well, headphones. I also got stagefright, lost my usual bluster.
Suddenly i was quickly losing the confidence with which I usually navigate london and its frenetic tunnels. I wished I had one of those 'baby on board' badges. Even though there was no baby - it would make sense of my clutching and sensitivity.
I held out until St. James Park.
There i realised that I wasn't going to make it. Physically, or emporally. I was in a *lot* of pain and getting anxious. I scrambled out of the train, got to somewhere i could find signal (and hopefully someone who might be able to help), rang my connects to cancel and then stood. Struck dumb.
Clearly the underground isn't designed for the infirm. And because I haven't spent a gazillion years of my life here, it's the first time i'm really discovering it. I have no back-up plan. I'm like a rabbit in headlights.
I couldn't afford a cab home. I didn't feel like i could ask my flatmate to come and get me yet. I knew that a good friend who also had a car was busy and everyone else was either at work, or about an hour a way by train.
I was still able to walk, slowly, and my stubbornness was still running the show. Besides, i was in the underground, so how hard could it be? I'll just make my way slowly back the way I came.
I realised, as the pain got worse, and I got less and less mobile, how different London is when you're not in sync with everyone. Like, really not in sync. so unsynched that it feels like you're in slow motion and watching the whole world go by.
Did i mention that the underground is not designed for the infirm? and, as such, no-one seamingly knows what to do when a young-looking white woman with a funny hair cut is shuffling along Bank station, holding onto all the rails.
They mostly just mind their business (which i was also partly grateful for), and go around. A few tuts. And a couple of young stoner girls whispering about being 'on it' and looking back at me. Thankfully I was just in pain and not 'on it' otherwise i would have been far more paranoid from then on.
Me and an old jamaican woman shuffling slowly in the opposite direction with heavy bags made eye contact and a brief nod of 'i year ya'. Solidarity in small doses, yo.
So i get to Bank DLR and, as i'm holding my guts, shuffling along the platform, a guy asks if i'm ok. He looks me right in the eye. And I say, no, not really, but thanks. And keep moving.
Because, well, i don't know what else to do. It's not clear what help I need.
Actually, it is, I really need to fast forward the world so that I'm in bed, laying down, not hurting. But i don't think this guy has that much power. Otherwise I would have jumped at him and pleaded it thus.
A point to note: I am not conditioned to say 'I'm not ok'.
I have become much more accustomed to it over the years and often let people know when i'm feeling rubbish, or even just mildly neurotic. Heck, i can even ask for help from health professionals and some friends, when and if i'm ready.
But never to a stranger in public.
Anyway, he sees that, actually, I'm not doing well. He shadows me and sees that get on the train OK. When a fine young dude goes to grab the last seat nearby he fends him off - hey man, she's unwell.
Bless this man.
Usuallly the trip home from Bank station is a pretty quick journey. this time it was the longest I've ever had. By this stage, I gave no fucks. I knew that mr tradesman was looking at me/out for me, concerned, so i just closed my eyes and tried to absorb the pain.
Whilst also checking for phone signal.
I had been in touch with the a friend who was diverting his ways, to come and help. i had also tried both flatmates.
I was relying on the kindness of strangers. And mostly with eye contact. I wasn't talking much.
On the way through the station, down the lift and across the street, Marcus - this man's name, is making sure no-one got in my way, Asked where I was from. When I said I was Australian, he smiled.
His boss was Australian and an old tradesman of his was too - someone who took him under his wing and taught him everything.
He said "everyone says Australians are racist, but Australians are some of the most generous people I know and they reached out to me when they didn't have to"
He also said, you know, black, white, whatever, you got to be there for people. He said. And he lived.
Because this black man was the only person who had bothered to ask if i was ok in that trip.
It's like white folk act like they don't have to look after one another 'cos they think 'ah, she's white, someone's got her back'. Or 'ah, young white girl that looks a bit unconventional, walking slowly holding onto things' - she's probably out of it.
I dunno, but I saw the people of London in a new way that night. Hardened, in their own privileged box. I've been that person, I know it. This story shouldn't be unusual for me. But it is.
Anyway, Marcus got me to the cafe where i would wait for my friend. He made sure i was as OK as i could be and then headed home.
I hope I run into him on the street again. Because I doubt that, at the time, was particularly articulate or gracious. I probably looked like i was terrified of him - being a stubborn woman in pain.
Marcus from St Lucia, thank you. I'm incredibly grateful for your kindness.
Thank you for:
a. not dumping my arse on the street when you found out that I was Australian and, by reputation, probably racist.
b. not ignoring me because i'm a young white woman who may or may not be scared of you based on your race and all the complications that come with racism still.
c. not ignoring me because i'm a young white woman who may or may not be scared of you based on your gender and all the complications that come with male violence.
d. following you sisters' advice: treat a woman how you'd like men to treat mama. You did. You treated a complete stranger like a sister - just another a human.