4.30 on a Tuesday afternoon and I had just managed to get on the tube before the doors shut. I glanced around and spotted a spare seat near the door to my right, perfect for making the quick platform change three stops up the line before heading off to collect our son from the childminder's.
I was just about to take a brief glance at the Metro newspaper, that had been left on the seat beside me, when I noticed a man stood in the aisle at the far end of the carriage. He was actually standing right in front of a young woman who was sat in the very last seat. The woman looked distressed and was asking the man what he was doing and what he wanted. She was clearly feeling intimidated, which was unsurprising as the man was staring, unblinkingly, directly at her without saying a word and was stood so close that their legs were almost touching.
We were still in the station as I observed this uncomfortable scenario unfold, with – as you might imagine – absolutely no one offering to go to the woman's aid. I watched for a few more seconds and, when I realised that the rest of the carriage was taking no interest whatsoever, I decided to do something and walked over:
"Is everything OK?" I asked the woman, who pretended it was and nodded in my direction with a thin smile on her face. I glanced at the man, who seemed none too pleased to be snapped out of his trance-like state, as he watched me walk back to my seat. I sat down, picked up the Metro again and began reading about tube fare increases as the train, finally, pulled away from the platform. It was then I noticed movement from the corner of my eye and, glancing to my right, I saw the man moving, purposefully, towards my seat.
As the man loomed into view, I took the decision to simply ignore him and keep staring at the paper, after all, I only had three stops to go. He arrived and, as he had done with the woman, took position directly in front of me, very close, with his arms crossed in a menacing manner. After about a minute, I decided to try and break the tension by attempting to converse with the man. I looked up to see a young, black man, aged maybe about 30, with short hair, wearing a 3/4 length, crombie-style black coat, black trousers and black shoes. He looked a little unkempt; a few days stubble and a slightly scruffy appearance, but the most striking, and unnerving, aspect was the manic, staring eyes, drilling into me as they had done with his previous target.
"Can I help you?"
"Is there a problem?"
At this point, two black businessmen, sat just behind the man, could see what was going on and tapped the man on the hip, saying:
"Come on, man. Leave it now!"
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!" hissed the man, menacingly, whilst maintaining his wild,
unblinking stare directly at me.
It was now that I contemplated the gravity of the situation and, as we pulled out of another station, I wondered whether he was armed, whether he was going to slash or stab me, maybe pull out a gun? I started to wonder what the childminder would do when I didn't turn up, or ring. What would my son and partner think, or do, once they heard the news? Would the Metro be running a headline about a lone commuter, stabbed to death by a drug addict/care in the community nut job on the Piccadilly line? The overwhelming thought at that moment was, what a crap way to die; killed on the way home from work, on a Tuesday afternoon.
Suddenly, it was my stop. Shit it was the nutter's too. He walked to the door and stood, staring at it. I took my place next to him, wanting to show I wasn't scared, not intimidated. Shitting myself. Other passengers stood around us as we pulled into the station. The train stopped, the doors opened and the nutter and me stepped on to the platform at the same time. He turned right and strolled off, as if nothing had happened. I watched him leave, watched him walk off to who knows where, and reflected on whether I had been brave, stupid or cowardly. Ultimately, it didn't matter, as the most important thing was that I was still alive and would be able to see my son and my beautiful partner again. I crossed the platform, got on my connecting train and found a spare seat by the door - perfect for making a swift exit at my station - and buried my face in my paper.
H. J. Lawrence