Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Tonight, my mum and I boarded a train in London.

It was fairly crowded, particularly with Koreans, so we made our way through them, stowed some of our luggage in an overhead compartment, and sat down on opposite sides of the aisle from each other.

Sitting on the far side of my mum on the double seat was a twenty-ish foreign-looking girl, who at the next stop had to squeeze past my mum to get out, while chatting away on her mobile phone.

A moment after she’d gone, my mum found a very large cloth bag stashed underneath the double seat.

We looked around. No-one would admit to owning it. There was no-one else who it could belong to. The train was still in the station, and the sliding doors were still open.

Grabbing the bag I forced my way through the party of Koreans and stood in the train’s doorway scanning the milling crowds on the platform for her.

She’d gone!

I waved desperately at a guard, who either didn’t see me, or didn’t want to be bothered by this idiot waving at him when he had a train to dismiss. I waved again. Still no response. I’m pretty sure I waved a third time, but still couldn’t catch his gaze.

What was the right thing to do here? Keep this stranger’s bag safely with me until I got to my stop and was able to hand it in, or drop it on the platform here just as the doors closed, hoping that she would realise her mistake and come running back momentarily to find it? In fact, which of these two options would have made me look the least suspicious?

I waved at the guard a fourth time, and tried lifting the bag in the air to attract his attention.

It worked!

He came over, and I told him, “A lady just got off the train and left this behind.”

The sense of imminent disaster in his voice was unmistakable. “Oh, NO.” 24/10 was beginning.

Anyway, he lifted the bag off me, and that seemed to be that. I made my way back through the Koreans to my seat, where I discovered that, sitting in the seat behind my mum, was another lady fidgeting around in a state of some distress.

“Where’s my bag?”

… oh.

Well, you can imagine the hundred and one thoughts that charged through my brain at that moment. I guess amongst all the horror, guilt and insecurity was the central dumbfoundment of how on Earth I could have not thought of something as obvious as asking the lady sitting behind if the bag was hers. I mean, isn’t that the first and most obvious explanation when you find a bag under your seat that isn’t yours?

I quickly told her what I’d just done, and with the train still motionless and waiting to depart, we both rushed back through all the Koreans to the sliding double doors… which were now both firmly sealed shut.

The train began to heave away slowly, like a guilty bloodhound who'd just disobeyed an expressed command not to eat the new kitten. I realised I was watching the platform gliding silently past the windows. Now, with the rest of the carriage, I was listening to this lady's entirely understandably whining voice. “Everything’s in there! My keys are in there!”

Just how is it possible to go so quickly from doing a favour for a complete stranger, to realising that your idiotic interference has just ruined someone’s otherwise smoothly running evening?

Though moving, the train hadn’t yet completely cleared the station, so she pushed the emergency button, an act which I think I've only ever once before witnessed. (there's a £25 fine for misuse)

The train ground to a halt, a voice over the speaker asked what the emergency was, she explained that "someone's just taken my bag off the train", the doors were re-opened, her bag was brought back, and all as I just stood there with her.

Thankfully, she was entirely pleasant about the whole misunderstanding, chuckling about it with me straight afterwards, which was a massive relief on my part. She also said that she had been too engrossed in her book, and a little inconsistently asked “Didn’t you see me looking around?”

I returned to my seat, the guy next to me reassuring me “You did the right thing mate”, but I didn’t want to agree with him too loudly. The next hour of the journey would be an awkward one, as we both now had to return to our former state of being British commuters ignoring each other. I feared that in that silence of non-communication, with the adrenaline high of the misunderstanding over, the corresponding low was about due to kick-in inside each of us, very possibly bringing with it blame and bitterness.

I obviously cannot speak for her subsequent feelings, if any, but I was surprised that this negativity never emerged in me.

When she eventually disembarked, she didn’t make eye-contact with me, so I was unable to wish her a smoother rest of her journey. When my mum and I subsequently got off at our station, we were finally able to speak to each other about it and compare notes regarding exactly what had taken place.

It turned out that, when my mum had first found the bag, she had checked the seats behind her, and they had been empty.


2 comment(s):

At 1:55 am, Anonymous Rhett said...


When you write like this, you are like a British Douglas Coupland.

Write a book man! :-)

At 1:58 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

You are very kind. I always think of you as a South African Brett Jones.


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