I do so often find pleasure in the simple act of people watching. The common location of this somewhat mysterious pastime is on a train. The Underground in particular. I don't travel to London as often as I would love to, but when I do I always find myself pondering the elaborate and unknown lives of my fellow train passengers.
Sometimes it is an unsettling feeling to suddenly realise the sheer mass of humans I do not and will never know. Every person on the train a stranger to me must also be aware of the lives they will not enter, the paths that will not cross, my own included. We must all share a mutual thought, and yet lead strange and separate lives to one another. I do not know these passenger's middle names, or how many children they have, if they have siblings, whether they are orphans, if they're in love, nor the household they will return to at the end of the day.
And yet, for one short moment of their existence, I have a tiny window into their varied and wonderful lives. I see a small selection of their mannerisms; perhaps they look at the floor to avoid eye contact, slide their glasses up their nose every few minutes, fold their hands neatly in their laps, tap their foot continuously, play with the split ends of their long and straggly hair. Maybe there are stories behind the mannerisms, childhood traumas, inherited nervous ticks, acts of self consciousness.
When people read books on the train I wonder what else the have read in their lifetimes, what they hope and plan to read in the future, whether we would have a nice chat about books if I bothered to ask. They might have shelves and shelves of books at home, or they might hate the clutter. They could be considering purchasing a kindle. Perhaps they're even bored of the book they're reading now.
An older woman is on the train and I wonder if there are children she is thinking about. Or a man sits opposite who worries about the next time he will see his daughter he lost custody over. A couple sit next to me. Are they in a new relationship? Is he thinking of proposing? Do they live together? Will it end soon?
As soon as I arrive at my destination I walk off the train and never think about those people again. I doubt whether I could remember all their faces. But for a moment we unknowingly shared a few minutes together. Were passing friends. We use the train as our metaphor for the lives we share, and the different places we go to. Some of our journeys are long and arduous, others short and merciful.
I never greet nor bid farewell to these people on trains, but I do note the few moments we share together. They are fuel to my daydreams, instruments in the passing of my time.
Thank you to the people in my people watching. I'm glad we could share a few simple moments.