Mediating the Tube

Walking along the platform of Tower Hill tube station with C we became aware of a man ahead. He was tall and well built, obviously drunk, and muttering aggressively. As he passed us he shouted, “Fucking [something]!” A few steps later he turned and tried to pass me, shouting abuse at C – criticising his hair, his clothes, his glasses.

At this point things moved quickly for me. I took him in, saw the way his eyes were locked onto C, noticed his anger, which was absolutely tangible. I saw I had a brief window to interrupt him before he reached C and that he threatened violence – not that he would necessarily be physically aggressive, but I judged in that moment he was capable of it.

I stopped him with a hand on his arm and he looked at me, surprised. I said, I can tell you’re angry, but I don’t understand why. He made some attempt to explain this to me, almost spitting with rage, and I forget the details of our exchange at this point – I just remember feeling my heart pounding in my chest. I was aware of how tall he was – a full head above me – and how close we stood. But I kept him talking and noticed he looked at me more, at C less, and that he seemed to be calming down. I thought, he’s just looking for someone to fight, a man, and I don’t fit with that. I saw that I wasn’t in danger and that the fear I felt wasn’t from a real threat but just from my proximity to such intense anger. He still directed this anger at C, but became friendlier to me. “You’re listening to me, you’re talking to me, but look at him just standing there silently…” Well that’s probably because you’re being really intimidating. He seemed to accept that. “But I like your coat, I like you’re hair, you’re beautiful.” You know, it’s hard to trust what you say after all you’ve said about my friend. He seemed to accept that too. Finally, as a train approached, he held out his hand to me and said, “Pleased to meet you.” We got on the train, him on one carriage, C and I on a different one.