Oh, the Glasgow banter…
If you travel on the subway enough it’s only a matter of time. This probably doesn’t count if you are a regular commuter, travelling only when the trains are packed, but if you use the subway socially at night then it is a sure fire likelihood that this will have happened to you at some stage.
I am talking of course of the ‘chat’.
It’s that moment when you are sitting minding your own business and then, across the aisle, without warning they just start talking to you. Now I am not talking about some idle chatter or comment made between passing souls, that doesn’t count, no, I am talking about the ‘chat’, where they talk and you just listen.
You might have got a nice one. Some old guy on his way home from a hard days graft, workie boots and hi-vis vest. Been for a few too many pints after work with his workie mates and now he is sitting in front of you, across the aisle, telling you about his wee niece or his prize racing pigeon.
Perhaps it’s the ranter, the bad day merchant. Something happened and it’s just no on. It’s the type of conversation where your only response is to reply with an occasional ‘I know mate’ in your best attempt at a rough Glaswegian accent. The aisle is now no longer a comfortable place to be and the edge is noticeable.
But the most difficult ones are the life stories. No question.
The most awkward encounter I had was a middle aged woman. Visibly it was clear she was from the wrong end of town, not Burberry and shellsuit, but that older type of clothes, the worn out type of someone who either lacks the money or the desire to care about their appearance. Her lined face had that look of worry and torment, a rough life lived at the edges, a continual fight for survival.
No-one knows what makes them open up to you. Mibby it’s the friendly smile you give when your eyes glance or just your relaxed demeanour. Either way, for whatever reason that night I was getting the story, just me and her and an empty carriage.
It wasn’t just about the husband that left her or the son that was stabbed. It wasn’t just her illness or the elderly mother that she now had to look after. It was the determination and the regret in her voice, that mixture of anger and sadness at the hand she played wrongly, or the hand that was never a winning hand from the start.
At no stage did she want money, or help or even pity. She just wanted someone to talk to and tonight it was me. I got the full history.
She didn’t look back when she got up at her stop, I remember that much. The station rolled in with a clutter and she rolled out of my life just as quickly, never to be seen again.
As the doors closed with their usual clunk I couldn’t help but take a moment. To think of what we have and what we value and to appreciate it more. Strangely thankful that there is always some other poor soul somewhere else having a worse time than you are.
But most of all it reminded me that even though she was losing the war she was still fighting the battle. Whatever life was going to throw at her she was going to take. She just needed to tell someone once in a while to keep her sane.