Monday, 11 December 2006


The challenge of other people

I had my lunch today at Eat in Paddington station. It's nothing special, just somewhere to sit and have sandwiches or soup and a hot drink, but it was busy at lunchtime and this meant that what few tables there were had to be shared. I shared mine with two young men, one telling the other about a holiday he'd just been on in the States, and a fling he'd had with a footballer.

Just across from me, a hard-looking man sat alone, looking uncomfortable. A short while later, he was joined by another man, who shuffled along with a cup of tea in a takeaway paper cup. This man was older, and looked beaten-down; he had holes in his socks and his clothes were dirty. His hair was curly, but yellow-grey with nicotine, and his face was lined with deep wrinkles. As he sat hunched over his tea, avoiding Hard Man's stares, he lit a cigarette with shaking hands. My first reaction was to question whether smoking was allowed in the area; there were no signs to suggest not, but then the man began to cough with painful, wracking heaves so that initially I thought he was crying.

I sat watching him, watching everyone else ignore him, concious that I'd stopped eating just to sit and look. He was the proverbial elephant in the room, sitting there amongst the clean, affluent people with their tales of foreign trips and bags of Christmas shopping. I felt uncertain whether I should go over to him - was he mad? Drunk? Would be welcome my intervention? But then, listening to his spasms, I felt horrified revulsion. The sheer physicality of the man was repellant and I felt myself becoming nauseous at the sound, unable to eat. That was when it hit me; God is staring back at me, right now, through the eyes of this man. It was hard to meet his gaze.

Posted by em at 21:54 | Comments will be back later in the year. Please email me instead!