Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bullies on the London Tube

I was in England. My first wife and I had a tiny tiny flat in the basement of a house.  The toilet was outside, across the vestibule, separate, cold but clean.  South Putney.  We took the Tube to work.  Walking to the station till we separated and went our different ways.  I never liked to leave her.  She was so beautiful.  Her departure was like losing a vital organ each day since she'd been hurt in the blast of the IRA bomb.
I was so in love with her. And she with me.  Young people and we didn’t really know it.  So full of life we thought this was all it would be like.  A couple of travellers and dancers.  We’d bicycled across Europe together and now were each of us studying dance at night with world champions  She with Bill and Bobby Irvin and I with Doreen Key.
To make money for our lessons we took whatever work we could.
There was a tube station in London. I don’t remember what it was called.  In the War the Underground had been used as bomb shelters for the population.  This was one of the deepest if not the deepest.  Three flights of elevators to get to the bottom.  I was waiting for my train there at the deepest place..  Three floors down.  Masses of people in constant streams hurrying during rush hour.  Going to work.  I was standing by the rail.  My overcoat, umbrella under my arm, black brief case, black pants white shirt. I was going to work in an office.
My mother had taught me to type when I was sixteen.  I got jobs working on the proto computer typewriters.  Made more money than I would working on the oil rigs with my friends.  Could stay in London and attend the shows. Take dance lessons.  All I had to do is accept the natural ribbing I took from the girls and guys.  Both sexes called me a faggot for working as a typist.  It was girl’s work in England. Even if the keyboard was special.  I was called faggot a lot by the mail room boys. The ones without the education and the thicker accents.  Only a few of the girls made fun of me.  And some were like sisters when I worked in the pool.  Others were so very jealous that I was I was working the ‘machine’.
I was the Canadian too.  Canadians were much admired then because we were workers.  The unions had affected London badly and everyone worked as slow as they could. I was often told I was making others look bad.  I thought they were joking. I’d not encountered that sort of behaviour before.  I just thought everyone went to work and tried to work their hardest and to do their best. I was young then. I didn’t know how many kinds there are.  Travelling was opening my eyes to so much.
Her screams took me out of my reverie.  I’d been just standing probably half asleep when I heard her first scream. Loud long cries and shouts, “Stop it.  Stop it.”
I looked back to where it came from.  There she was on the down escalator.   Wrestling with a man  He had her half undressed.  Her white blouse was stripped open. I could see her fine peaches and cream breasts out of the bra which he was pulling off from behind her as she wrestled in his grip.  I watched for only a second and began moving through the dense crowd to her.  I met them as they stumbled off the escalator his big hands now pulling up her tight and proper skirt white panties showing. He really looked like he was going to rape her right there half lifted up onto the hand rail of the escalator. She was  whimpering now, ‘don’t don’t  tears wetting her face and her long black hair.
“Here, stop that, “I said, confronting the man, who was easily my height but older and thicker in the neck and arms. It was obvious he worked out.  A worker or a gym guy but definitely looking like one who had a go at the weights.  Formidable.  The girl was sobbing as I stood there staring at the man.  The stream of faceless people continued down the escalator moving around us as we formed a little huddle there at the base. He was still holding her by the arm and she was pulling her ripped shirt across herself to hide her breasts as she struggled to get free..
“Hey don’t you like girls, “ he almost spit the words at me.  “Don’t you want to see a bit of fluff going to work like,”  “You got a problem with that.” He said turning his attention fully on me as she broke his grip and he zipped his fly up. The girl had pulled away.
Just then  half dozen more of them surrounded me.  I ‘d not seen them.  I was young and naive.  I looked around for the police. There was a transit police at that level. I saw him running away. He was a tiny East Indian man. I remember seeing him phoning for help over the shoulders of the men who were now collective pushing me backwards towards the tracks.   In that way that bullies do. I didn’t know then what I know now. What cowards they are.  Always working as nests.  Never one on one but only when they have an advantage.  Six on one were the number here. And they must have been in their late 20’s.  Older tougher.
I felt the quick hand pushes  to my chest as I stumbled back, people clearing around me moving aside and away from the hooligans.  Old men reading their papers folding them and taking their place in an outer circle of spectators.
“What’s wrong with looking at titties. You some kind of girl boy you don’t like a free show. Here I was giving all the men a free show and you have to a problem with that. . You could have seen her pussy. I was getting to that.  Now how do you feel. Is this what you wanted. You could have had a free show and now you’re going to die.  Hey I’m talking to you. How do you feel girlie boy?"
I suppose he called me girlie boy because I had  long hair. I had long hair in those days.  But I was having trouble paying much  attention to him and his friends because the train was coming and I could hear the high screech of the brakes.   They’d pushed me back so my heels were over the rails. I was balancing on my soles, thankful to be a dancer,  looking at him and the oncoming train.
It was a tableau.  Hundreds of English spectators. This gang of six bullies.  And me.  The one in front of me was poking me gently now with his finger tips almost caressing my chest.
“I could just get rid of you.You’re just a nuisance. Not a real man. Don’t like a bit off titty.  Could kill you right here and it would serve you right. Interfereing in real men’s business. Putting your nose where it don’t belong.  Not minding your own business.  “ he spat out the words face real close to mine as I was turning away to watch the on coming train.
I remember seeing the driver of the train and hearing the screech of the brakes.  I imagined I was dead. There was nothing I could do. I had an umbrella in one hand and a brief case in the other. Any move and I’d be on the tracks.  All he had to do is push my chest with those hands of his.Just a slight bit harder. I was swaying.  I could maybe drop the umbrella and briefcase as I fell backwards and maybe  grab hold of him. But there was the windshield and face of the driver.  I was ready to grab onto anything but it was all frozen in time. Frozen in my memory. I saw the drivers eyes wide as 45’s.  It was the era of the Beatles and for some reason I remembered a 45 I’d bought back in Canada.  I can’t say my life flashed in front of my eyes but my mind sure speeded up with odd associations and the overwhelming thought that I just might die.
Silly Canadian Don Quixote. In a London underground tube.
They were gone as soon as the train was by and coming to the emergency stop. Like rats who’d stolen cheese many times before they disappeared into the crowds.   The girl holding her torn clothing was walking head down humiliated boarding the tube.  There was a collective shame in the group as like a crowd at the  Roman games  who had wanted  but not wanted to see the Christian killed by the lions. They were disappointed when he wasn’t. But already making excuses for why they had done nothing. A bit angry with the young fellow making them look bad and feel bad.   Not totally but a bit embarrassed too that  they hadn’t done anything.
I got on the train and rode  to work just like any other day.  Later I’d learn that these guys were known and that they worked the Underground.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

when bad men combine
good men must associate

your a hero...