They’ll tell you nothing of their worlds. Strangers on the tube remain strangers, even when the rush hour presses them as close together as lovers. It’s a code that may only be broken by an emergency such as a heart attack or a dropped phone about to be crushed underfoot.
It’s not the rush hour now. It’s late enough that everyone has a seat, and there’s enough space between these people that we can look into their worlds. Look again at the man opposite us. He’s leafing through an Evening Standard he’s just picked up from the seat next to him.
What does that say about him?
He isn’t reading it. If he’d wanted to read, he’d have picked up a newspaper from the stand at the station. The paper is simply occupying his hands while his mind is too full to absorb even a tabloid written for the limited attention of a tired commuter.
Look past what he’s doing to what he’s wearing. See the electric light reflect off his jacket and his light blue tie. That’s a suit a man buys to meet a dress code as cheaply as possible, not because he likes wearing a suit. He’d rather be wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
So what is it that’s preoccupying his mind? He’s wearing a wedding ring, but his frown doesn’t belong on the face of a man who is looking forward to going home to a loving wife. Is that because he’s carrying a burden from work that he can’t leave behind until he sees her? Or is he frowning at what’s waiting for him at home?
He reaches the back page. He turns the Evening Standard over and starts leafing again from the beginning. He hasn’t read a word of it. It’s as new to him as it was the first time.
He pauses. He flips a page back. Look closer now. See what’s caught his attention. He won’t notice. He’s completely immersed in his own world.
Did you see it? The headline that held his attention for a fleeting moment?
The picture of the celebrity couple who divorced six months after their daughter died.
The man retunes to his unseeing page turning.