The journey from Lewisham Station to Cross Harbour takes less than 10 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), but yesterday evening, my journey appeared to take a life time.
Lewisham Station, a terminal for DLR trains going from here to either Bank Station or Stratford, is usually not so busy at this hour. I got on the train and made my way towards the front of the first coach. A moment later I was joined by a young man (white) and his girl friend (also white). Two other passengers came in to occupy the train driver's seat and then a girl (black) took up a position on the seat next to that one.
Suddenly a man (black) in his mid 50s staggered into the train. He sat on the seat opposite me and the white couple. I recognised him immediately. On my way to the Station, I had noticed this character disengaging himself from a small group of drunks (whites), as I walked through a small park. They drew my attention because they were quite loud as they bid their 'friend' good bye.
As the man sat down he began to chatter in a loud voice, to no one in particular, about nothing of particular interest. Though he wore no dreadlocks, his accent betrayed his Carribean ethnic origin. Everybody ignored him. The couple on the train driver's seat got up immediately and disappeared towards the rear of the coach. I
thought, "do I move too, or do I stay and put up with this drunk?" I stayed.
Now the drunk began to address the couple sitting by me. I got the impression this guy defered to white people. Forced himself on them rather.
"You look like John Lenon", he said.
Perhaps more out of respect, the other guy replied,
"That's what people say".
This scene had nothing to do with me, so I looked away. Staring into space, I tried to make myself as small as possible so no one would notice me. That was my mistake.
The drunk turned on me. I'm not able to recall exactly what he'd said, but he'd expected me to react. I boned up. I wasn't getting involved in this. To the white boy he said,
"I love John Lenon".
Then he began to rave:
"You see why black people shoot each other?"
"Black people don't support one another!"
"You see, you're a white boy, you show me respect"
"But see this black man, he no show me no respect"
"That is why I carry a gun in my bag!"
"I shoot you, you're dead"
"Bang! Bang!", he shot me.
No, I didn't drop dead. Not yet. It was an air pistol.
But my heart skipped a beat when he reached for his bag. Is this fool going to try and shoot me, or what? This was the worst kind of pest! People who couldn't carry their booze well. The scum of the earth. To be this drunk so early in the evening. To try and turn me into a victim of his sorry world. I didn't trust this guy at all.
But wait, what if the man really had a gun in that bag? Can one just suddenly lose his life like that? For nothing? I braced myself. To take a bullet?
An ordinary encounter about to suddenly turn nasty?! As the man continued to rave, weird thoughts ran through my mind. I tried to coil myself so I could go at him head first. Would my bag get in the way? Can I move fast enough? I concentrated on his hands. And his bag. This was serious. I wasn't smiling at all.
"Your face too long", complained the man.
"African boy", "you don't deserve to live!"
He was standing up now.
"Bang! Bang!", he shot me again. Air pistol.
The train began to stop. Deptford Bridge Station. The man began to leave the train. As he left, he continued to abuse and call me names. I never said a word to him. Kept my face blank. The rest of the passengers still showed no interest in this one-man demo.
The man got off the train, looked through the window at me, and drew his air pistol for the finisher.
"Bang! Bang! Bang!", he went.
The train moved on. Phew! That was close.
I struggled to comprehend the intensity of this man's emotion. I wondered what could've been the outcome of this encounter if the man had got a real gun in his bag. I was so sure he could've used it. Or tried to. He was almost foaming at the mouth as he cursed and abused me.
I began to reflect. Some of what the man had said to me went beyond drunkeness. His monologue had betrayed some deep seated ill-feeling against me, and my kind. To be confronted with this scenario less than two weeks after the terror bombs of the London transport system left me aghast. Apparently al-Qaeda isn't the only threat one has to contend with in this society.
Why is the world so full of hate? What makes people think they are the ones who deserve to live while others deserve to die, and at their hands? Do humans really enjoy killing one another? Why? So many questions, so few answers.
But I'll ride the DLR again. Scum and all.