I was seated on the train, with my bag on my lap – always on my lap, never on the floor – when a man comes into the carriage. A man I never would have noticed if it weren’t for the other passengers.
They shifted their stance, covered their noses, looked in the direction of the floor. The few that knew each other, whispered unheard words to each other.
I smelled something also, something pervasive. It was then I looked up, and it made sense.
He was really tall; very thin. I noticed his thinness more than his tallness.
His clothing – or more appropriately, his rags, because that is what they were – was brown in color.
As my eyes moved up his body, they stopped at what he was holding. A polystyrene cup that looked like it had been mauled by those tiny rodents that live on the train tracks.
He didn’t say anything, but just shook the cup. It jingled – or rather, what was in it jingled. We all knew what that meant.
He started to walk down the carriage. The whispers subsided. He stopped in front of me, his cup lowered to my eye level. He had seen me reach into my purse. In went £2.
“Thank you”, were his words to me. A smile was my word to him. He carried on walking.
I never once directly looked him in the eye. I got as far as his chin when he said “thank you”. I know he smiled back at me, but I never really acknowledged him.
I could feel the thoughts of the other passengers: “he’ll only use that money for drink. It’s all a scam”. Well, maybe, but at that moment, my hope was that I see him again, for then I will look him directly in the eye as I smile to him. I felt I really wanted him to feel valued in some way.
On the bus, deep in my own self absorbed thoughts. Dwelling on my issues, my problems. Oh how I wish they would disappear. I have learned enough from them now.
Someone gets on at the next stop, and in that instant, I forget my thoughts. What is it about this person that has me engaged?
She walks toward the back. Her gait is unusual. Not quite limping; not quite walking steadily. She is very slow.
She walks past a window that allows the sun to shed more light to her face.
It is disfigured.
It is disfigured in a way I have only ever seen once before; in a child; and that child was the survivor of a fire. This woman looks so similar, she could only have gone through that same trauma.
She has no nose.
Her head is held high; humble. Her eyes ever so subtly look around, as if searching for acceptance. She walks past me. She sits somewhere behind me.
I have felt drawn to these two people and have thought of them often. To want to be valued, but feeling self conscious at the same time. Self conscious of how one looks, how one will be accepted. Self conscious of ones standing in life.
Now, I could be totally wrong, they could be thinking something very different. They may not even give a rip about anyone else; but, that is not the feeling I got. It was in the eyes. The searching eyes.
I think that, were they to hold a banner over their heads, it would say, “I may not be beautiful on the outside, but there is beauty within me.”
I am on the train. This time I am standing. My bag on my shoulder – always on my shoulder, never on the floor.
The now familiar man steps on. The whispers and looks begin once more.
He walks down the carriage without a word, just shaking that cup. He is close by now, I can smell him.
My hand is in my purse.
He stops and waits for my coins.
“Thank you” was his reply. A smile was mine.
He gets off the carriage and moves onto the next. It is then I realise, my eyes never made it past his shoulders. I never saw his eyes. I barely acknowledged him.