The Uncomfortable Gaze #3
One day on the DLR, the monorail which runs gingerly through London’s drowned former docklands, was an example of what most would call an insane person, alongside me and another two hundred or so men and women and several children.
He was dressed head to toe in orange cloth, the colour of cartoon radiation. Everybody knows that this denotes the uniform of the public servant, the ones at risk of being invisible in the most dangerous places. Around the azimuth of his head was a pair of headphones the colour and texture of white goods, as if somebody had carved a circlet from a dishwasher, and he spent his journey drumming violently across his knees, stamping his feet, and singing up and down his register hoarsely and loudly, his eyes tight shut. It is the sort of thing that disgusts almost everybody, one of the trials of public transport. Everybody did very badly at this; they would try to stare at their shoes, but fail, if only because of how he moved. He would swing from bar to bar, sit down, stand up, switch spaces; he was like a canary, hopping back and forth. His mouth moved spastically, in a pale imitation of some song that billowed out from under his dishwasher headphones, like steam.
There was a canniness to him, though. He peeked up every so often, to see who was watching him, but he never approached or accosted anybody, not even the women in the carriage, who hate the fact that they expect this sort of behaviour. I have been on the Underground many times and looked up to see people, veterans of the roar between each carriage, opening those forbidden doors, letting in the unnatural wind, and shell-shocking everybody with their shouts for money or burgers.
I continued to watch him, and he would catch my eye for a moment before creasing his brow and billowing into some public duende, moaning and groaning, and jiving on his arse.
These hummings, rising whines and falling cadences sounded like a machine being ignited and doused over and over, or the glossolalia of somebody not possessed, but maybe looking for attention at church. I gave it to him. I tried to hold his gaze, and transmit some sort of warm glow, a radiation of my own that would leave residues of kindness about him. I wanted him to know that I loved how different his brain was, that there was no reason he could not sing and stamp out of time on this train all day if he wanted to. It was as good as sitting there quietly, or reading, or talking to a friend. I wanted him to know that I appreciated him.
I don’t think he cared, or noticed, and he did not look back when we both left the train at the terminus. Next to the escalator were five flights of steps, and I ran up them, not caring that everybody was looking at me, buoyed up by my own self-improvement and enlightened observance of the world around me. I really was very kind, to accept him like that, on behalf of the whole carriage.
I watched his glow shrink in reflection, as he rounded a corner. And now I cannot remember what I was wearing. I don’t suppose it matters.