As I was yet again squashed against hundreds of strangers on the underground I thought to myself, “I’ve no idea who you are, yet here we are sharing our very intimate personal space”
|Who's that sitting next to you?|
A few years ago, when I used to live in London and travel in the underground every day, I had an idea for a play. I realised that every day, I took the same train from the same station at the same time to go to work, and I would take the same train form the same station at the same time to go back home. And yet every day I would only see a handful of people whom I recognised from this routine of my every day life. It was extraordinary that every day, amongst hundreds of passengers, only a few would do the same routine as me. I have always been fascinated by the concept that every day we sit next to total strangers and for a few moments, minutes and in some cases hours, as we share confine spaces with these people, we actually don’t know anything about them. Total strangers that you may see only once in your life, people whom you have no connection, nothing in common except sharing that public space for that period of time. As far as we are aware these individuals are going somewhere, we make the assumption, as they are on public transport. But where are they going? We don’t know. Where have they come from? We can only guess and what were they doing before they got onto the train? Only God knows! What they did the night before, the weekend before, where are they going after their journey, next week, their next holiday? Are they married or single (we can only guess by rings in their fingers) do they have children or a pet? Do they smoke or drink? What do they like to eat? And the more you think about it, the more you realise that you are sitting next to a complete stranger.
Now, this is something we have done all of our lives, it is nothing out of the ordinary and it is a way of life. But what I am fascinated about is thinking whom are we really sitting next to? Think about this; you know the famous phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” well this is so true in this case! Do you really know whom you are sitting next to? What we may see is not what may be behind the façade.
Everyone we see during our travels, the majority of commuters I meet on the rush hour train from Victoria Station to Oxford Circus, are probably the average person who has just waken up, had breakfast, got dress and jumped onto the train to go to their work or school. And they will most probably come home to more routine stuff. However, how do we know that? How do we know that the person standing next to you is not a victim of abuse in his or her relationship? How do we know that the person sitting next to you was not up all night surfing the Internet for porn? How do we know the person walking right next to you is not a paedophile? How do we know the person occasionally glancing at you across the train is not radical extremist? How do we know if any of these individuals have not been convicted before for a crime? We just simply don’t know and by looking at them it’s impossible to tell.
The play I wrote back then was entitled “from Ealing to Holborn” (two train stations on the Central line in London’s underground system) and it’s the story of a young man who sits on the train on his way to Holborn station. John for the first time in his daily routine on public transport realises that he may be sitting next to someone who has just murdered his wife. This thought comes to him as he sits board on the train on one of his daily monotonous trips in the underground and to pass by the time he starts to play a game in his mind (involving the audience), trying to guess whom the people on the train really are.
Throughout the play we see various characters step out of the action and enact their realities vs. what John thought; we see situations from abusive relationships to cross dressing at the weekends, but each individual steps into a world unknown to our main character. And each individual’s private life does not reflect his or her appearance, playing with the concept that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Often the most normal looking individuals are the once that may have the darkest secrets and those who look like they have just stepped out of the Mad House may be the most average individuals you have ever met (I tried to avoid using the word normal here as I think normal can mean many things, so let’s just go with average)
This idea of not knowing who the person sitting next to you is, may not be as scary as I make it sound in the play and often as you stand at the station waiting for your train, the person next to you, well, will probably be an average individual going to work. However, the idea behind the play is to demonstrate that its not just about not knowing those you meet for a short time on your journey to work, but its about asking the question how well do we know those in our lives? As the main character becomes closer to the audience, towards the end he has build a bond with them, at which point he seems to be the only “average” person in that carriage. After an hour of interaction with them, he has built a false sense of comfort with the audience, leading them to think they know him. And it is of course at the end of the play when you see that even if you think you know someone, they may not turn up to be whom you thought they were (I won’t tell you the ending, you may want to read the play one day and I don’t want to spoil the surprise!) This is something that happens to us every day in our lives. I saw someone put in their Facebook status this week “Those who are closest to you are the ones who you don’t know that well” Obviously someone who got hurt by someone they thought they knew!
For me this is the question that lingered in my head this week; how well do we know those around us? How well do we know our boss, neighbour, our kid’s teacher, work colleagues, or even those close to us? Of course if we think about this too much we would never trust anyone, and perhaps we shouldn’t, but I guess what I am saying here is that no matter how much we think we know someone, there is always something we may not know about them. It may not always be a deep dark secrete, sometime it’s just simply, not knowing who they really are.