'Crisis, departure'



The fridge has started to coo like a pigeon, which is as sure a sign as any that it’s getting ready to give up the ghost. It’s too much to bear, to be close to its straining, and it drives me out of the house. I am struggling enough. Though, what is worse? Perhaps it is to be out in the public realm, amid the manifold impersonal moments of strife, weariness, and petty goings on that make urban life cohere. Their coarse texture allows things to stick and bind, instead of just floating away lost down the greasy river. 

But the impersonal is becoming personal. Like the couple beside me in the café I’ve chosen to hide in, sat across from one another on their respective laptops, delicately drinking hot chocolate, speaking to each other in soft tones, leaning across slowly, achingly so, to kiss – an effort to bridge the distance between an impassable human gulf. Pure artifice, don’t they know? Because all these mannered moments – gentle hand gestures and quiet looks, endless acts of small obeisance – ironically only show how far away these two lovers are.

The perversity of this is that they have become so close to me now. Not just in proximity, not just because I am all of two feet from them, but because their behaviours are a performance, and in a way it does not matter that the performance is not meant for me. I witness it and am brought in, and because of this their gestures have none of their intended meaning.

I think of how stark this stands in contrast to what I feel now, riding a half empty tube carriage, sat across from a blind man unfolding his collapsible walking stick. We only journey together for one stop – all of a minute and a half – enough to be beset by a small moral crisis. Is this when I allow the impersonal in, when I choose to make it mine? 

The doors ding open and the blind man makes his way toward them with measured steps. If there is a moment, this is the one – to leap from my seat and assist someone who clearly has less than me. When he undershoots the distance between his seat and the doors, I feel a tingle in my legs that confirms what I ought to be doing, but am selfishly resisting with all the weight of my body.

Then suddenly a hand reaches in and helps to guide the blind man across the gap. I think: So there is goodness in this world, perhaps just not in me. Before the train continues on I am able to see through the window that this helping hand is an Underground worker – it is his job to provide assistance to those who need it. Yet there is nothing in his countenance or bearing that suggests contempt or bother. This strikes me in an unexpected way, mostly, I gather, because he could get away with it if he wanted. 

But it’s when the worker puts his elbow out towards the blind man that I feel my eyes go wide. The blind man can’t see this gesture, of course, but he knows – he knows – to reach for it, to link his arm through. It is seamless, there is no mess. The exchange is beautifully manoeuvred, even more so because it’s done without thought. It’s not performative, it does not mean to convey. It extends, I almost reason, into the domain of love.