After a night of fitful sleep, an early start and an important 9am pitch meeting, I was stood in a stale aired London underground carriage.
I balanced myself as evenly as I could, mindful these days more than ever of my posture and back. I consciously relaxed my shoulders. I was mildly aware I was thirsty and needed a gulp of water, but couldn’t be bothered to pull yesterday’s lukewarm water bottle from my bag on my back.
The carriage was quiet for mid week, mid morning. Plenty of vacant seats, but with only 2, maybe 3 stops max before I get off, I chose to stand. To think through the next meeting. Ahead of schedule, that was a good thing. Take the opportunity to call the office when I get overground, before heading to reception. Or maybe wait til I get to reception?
I glanced vacantly around the half empty carriage. I noticed the little girl first.
Odd, kids are back at school now. She was sat sideways leaning into her dad sat next to her. She must have been about 8 or 10 maybe. Her fair hair was tied loosely back and strands of her fringe framed a red, swollen eye and the early signs of a bruise on her cheek bone. She had two stickers on her lightweight raincoat, both announced to the world how brave she’d been at hospital today.
Her dad was sat slumped, comfortable, in a blue business suit and blue raincoat, its collar caught inside itself, as though he’d pulled it on nonchalantly or too quickly to straighten it. He loosely held onto a brown leather briefcase resting on the floor between his knees.
The scenario was simple enough. Girl gets into scrape at school, school phones dad, dad rushes from work, collects girl, takes her to hospital for a check-up. Nothing serious, a few tests, lights in her eyes, temperature taken, precautionary warnings and then released back into the world, adorned with both bravery stickers.
But it was the way they were talking that got me.
He sat looking forward, nodding, listening, she, sat on her side, facing him, looking intently at him, talking, telling him a story, the events of the day perhaps. It was like a conversation between two adults, rather than father and daughter. A mutual respect and comfortableness about them both, how they interacted and talked casually, easily. Relaxed in each other’s company, maybe their sharing of the scare of the scrape had brought them that bit closer still. A scrape they’d recall later in the day and later in life, a shared moment of anxiety turned to togetherness.
Then suddenly the carriage shook with a violent thundering crash as a tidal wave of water came flooding in from the adjourning carriage door, gushing in through the air vents, the weight of the water forcing open the main carriage doors. The ice cold salty water hit me from the side, smacking against my face and pushing me sideways as it replaced the stagnant underground air with murky, leaden liquid.
I lifted my head in a vain attempt to keep my head above the water and to prevent my tears, but to avail. I closed my eyes tight, my salted tears mixing in with the waves of icy, bitter water of memories and recall.
On a mid morning Northern line tube to London Bridge, a middle-aged man was seen crying.