Tottenham Court Road
As I enter the southbound Northern Line platform at Tottenham Court Road, I hear an eerie, unmistakable sound: weeping. Not mere crying, not muffled sobs, but genuine, wretched, uncontrollable weeping.
It is coming from a woman sitting on one of the benches. She's a little older than I am, I think, although it's hard to tell; her face is contorted with grief, and, other than permitting myself a quick glance to reassure myself that she is keening out of misery and not dangerous madness, I don't want to stare.
There's a sturdy-looking uniformed Tube attendant standing in front of the woman, looking sympathetic and capable and saying something into a walkie talkie. There's nothing I can do for the woman that the Tube attendant can't, and the most reasonable course of action is for me to do is keep walking down the platform, so that I don't block the entrance. But it's very difficult to walk by a weeping human, and do nothing.
Watching the faces of my fellow commuters, I see the same expression on their faces that I must have on mine. I don't believe I've ever seen it before, but I recognize it immediately: it is frustrated compassion.
Big cities in general, and their mass transit systems in particular, are notoriously fractionating and impersonal. Certainly, this woman is more alone in her grief here on the southbound Northern Line platform than she would be with friends, or with family.
But among the rest of us on the platform, there is a feeling of community that's rare among strangers in London. At this moment, when we look at each other, it's not to scope out the competition for seats on the train. It is for reassurance. I catch another passenger's eyes, and we give each other a slight nod, each assuring the other that, really, there's nothing either of us could do. The nod helps. Neither of us can comfort this woman--but each of us can take some comfort in the knowledge that the other can't comfort her, either.
And then the train arrives. I step on it, and, rapidly, am far away.