7.45pm on a Wednesday and this tube is completely packed. I’m traveling from South Kensington to Manor House. How is it still so rammed at this time? Everyone’s face is in everyone else’s armpit. There’s no room to take off your winter coat without elbowing a stranger. The driver has got the hot air blasting full whack into the carriage. Just as we get to Caledonian Road, a shout goes down the carriage. “Water! Water!” The urgency in it brooks no delay. Everyone is rummaging in their bags and in less than ten seconds a plastic bottle is handed back. I follow it with my eyes. There, through the legs of bystanders, I see a young woman lying on her back. She is unconscious. She went down silently. Her face looks ruddy. I am sitting comfortably in a chair less than ten feet from her, hot but fine, and I hadn’t noticed anything until the call for water. She’s fainted from the crowds and the heat and I’m not surprised, it’s miserable in this carriage. Someone is rubbing water into her brows. Everyone now has a water bottle in their hand, and they’re all waving them half-heartedly towards the guy who asked: “Pick my water!!” She’s dead to the world, and he’s already picked enough water. He has water to spare.
We get to Caledonian Road. A group of strangers lift her out of the carriage while others stop the crowd from surging in and stepping on her. It’s efficient and more or less completely silent. I consider getting up to help, but I don’t. There are lots of people between her and me. There are already so many people helping her they can barely get an arm in. They put her in recovery position on the platform and I feel a pang of guilt as I remain where I am. In my comfortable seat. Yes, I’ve been looking around at each stop, making sure nobody looks like they need it. Yes, someone pretty close to me needed it and I didn’t see. And then she collapsed. So long as I’m comfortable, eh?
The train barely stops. Nobody has pulled the emergency alarm so it just carries on, taking one slightly discombobulated carriage with it. We all look out the window as we pull off. She’s on the platform, surrounded by men. If she’s claustrophobic she’ll be crowded when she wakes.
A small child opposite is worried. “Is that person okay?” “Yes,” the mother says. “Look, she’s surrounded by lovely people. She’s fine.” I momentarily worry when I hear her describe the people as “lovely”. It was so silent and efficient. All of them were men. Could I have just witnessed the beginning of a professional abduction? Then I remember that I have a hard-wired tendency to question all assumptions almost as a matter of course. So I allow myself to relax. She was comforting her child by assuming they were “lovely”. Plus they were being lovely. It was very very hot in that carriage. They all helped. I didn’t. I just sat here and wrote about it, took a selfie and got paranoid.
I didn’t even have a water bottle to wave. I wish I did. It was thirsty work watching them all be so helpful from this comfy seat.