Sunday, 28 February 2010

Tipsy Trains

No good deed goes unpunished.

I miss discussing politics, art and woman's rights with grumpy taxi drivers in Iraq. I miss their ridiculous, and sometimes scary outbursts at the traffic and the mother of all the traffic.
Instead here taxi drives consist of silence....some static. And yet more silence. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you get used to the endless talk, mutterings and flailing hand movements - none of which can be found over here.

I got off at the train station, thanking the taxi driver inappropriately...honestly i have trouble riding taxis alone...the stories of kidnappings, ransoms and everything else really messed my head up back in Baghdad, and now its ingrained.
I passed what looked like a 50+ year old beggar. Though he wasn't begging, but rather standing and sitting whilst shouting random observations to passers by, ranging from 'You dropped something!' to 'I can't look in any other direction', in a thick scottish accent.
I walked by too engrossed in finding what train, platform and time I should take.

After asking 3 people, and spending a long time reading the ridiculously complicated grids, I found my train. I sat down and yawned.
Little did I know the Scottish man had sat behind me. Ten minutes into the train ride, he asked me to send a urgent text for him. His eyes were such a light blue colour, they seemed like a cataract sufferer. They seemed dead.
I agreed, and he pitifully repeated 'Shokran shokran'. I was caught surprised. I had been talking to my mother on the phone, but it still seemed strange to me that he successfully recognised Arabic. Then again, perhaps its my fault for assuming that those around me are ignorant.
As he detailed his life to me, I nodded and smiled sympathetically.I wanted him to stop talking. His constant sitting and standing unnerved me.

Thankfully he finished babbling, and i turned back trying to resume my thought train. But he interrupted again. Looking at the open day university pack I had been given, he repeated 'you have to make sure you know that they want you more than you want them...'
A lady perhaps in her 40's tried to come to my rescue, as she glanced at my bewildered face.
Despite her angry looks at the guy, and her warning comments, he continued his tirade about death.
I actually looked at the rest of the carriage, trying to discreetly look for other seats. There were none.
His bulbous eyes made me feel pity, and a large part of me realised I was going to probably avoid using trains or tubes from now on.
Unashamedly, I pretended I was sleeping when he fell silent for a few minutes. Being quite tall, he would lean over my chair and ask personal questions, which i had no desire to answer. So I stayed silent.Though the overbearing scent of alcohol also aided my inability to open my mouth.

After what seemed like an eternity, my stop came. I pretty much ran to the exit, leaving him to be verbally attacked by some annoyed London girls. He then decided to try to converse with suited men conversing about IT. I must admit, I was impressed by the way they responded to him as he spat out his tale of how he had gone to Oxford to study IT, but had got kicked out....

As i walked around the maze that is the train station, I felt dizzy.

Later on that day, my phone rang. I answered it, to be confronted with the sound of the drunken train man. I closed the phone down almost scared.In fact out of shock, i had almost thrown my phone.
I felt betrayed by my own morals.
I was asked for help, and I had undertaken what i saw was a 'random act of kindness'. Only when I was confronted by the same voice babbling down the phone, did I realise I had been tricked into sending a text to the phone of a 50 year old drunk - it wasn't sent to the phone of a 'friend' who was worried. And he probably hadn't 'forgotten' his phone in Glasgow as he claimed. The weird thing was I waited for my anger. I waited for my usual reaction of mentally scolding myself for being naive. The anger never came.

Instead for the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable.

Next time, I'm taking the 'Me no sbeak English' reply to every stranger. :D

The past few days in the capital city have made me inevitably homesick for my Capital. But I'm almost worried now..when i go back, will my rose-coloured glasses fall completely off, and will I finally face up to the harsher reality? Or will I continue to think of it as a place of beauty?


JG said...

Hey Touta...

I have had the same thing (minus the phone part!) happen to me countless times. When I lived in Melbourne it seemed I was a magnet for drunk guys on trains. I wasn't always polite to them, I have to admit. Most of the time I'm just not in the mood for pointless meandering conversations, unless I'm a bit drunk myself! lol

The phone thing is a little freaky. But don't be too hard on yourself for the naivete, you were just being nice.

About going home, in my experience you appreciate your home all the more after being away. Well, you've plenty of experience of that already so I suppose you're well aware of that... I'm sure Baghdad will be just as special, and maybe even more, than before...

Ihsiin said...

I've had many an interesting conversation with drunks on public transport. Once a drunk taught me the subtitles of English billiards...
(I say 'many interesting conversations', that was really the only one.)

As for the phone incident, don't let it curb your kindness. Many of us who walk the tightrope of venturing out with barely any charge in our phone batteries often have to rely on the generosity of strangers when important, unforeseen calls have to be made.
However, you might want to be a little more... selective on whom you choose to favour with your kindness.

(As you might be able to tell, I've been awake for ages and I'm very tired (though I don't want to sleep). As such, my writing style has become needlessly elaborate.)
((And I also write little snippets of thought that just occur to me and can't possibly be of interest to anyone.))
(((I wish I could make these last lines of text appear in smaller and smaller fonts...)))

programmer craig said...

Touta, you are such a great story-teller :)

I think everyone who uses public transportation in a western country has had similar experiences. So, don't worry! It isn't just happening to you! I lived in Manhattan for a couple years in high school and rode the subway all over, all the time, and that was back when the subway was really bad (as in dangerous and foul). It wasn't long before I decided talking to random strangers on the subway was a very bad idea, as I never met anyone I wanted to know that way lol.

I like your idea about forgetting how to speak English :)

Touta said...

melbourne as in australia? wow sounds fun, especially since australians seem to have a friendly accent :)
You are right about the whole 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', but the thing is, if you told any iraqi (usually the males) who currently lives in Iraq, that you miss it, there is a perhaps 99% chance that they will bite your head off. I suppose some people are more prone to looking at things through different perspectives.

well i'll stay with my 'kindness'. i don't think i can be selective, i think its best to help everyone to make sure i don't feel regret.
hahaha, and no you can't tell you haven't slept.
(And the random thoughts are of interest to people, since they are less restricted and monitored)
((so you end up saying what is really on your mind))
((( and yes i see your point about smaller fonts)))

programmer craig,
thanks :D reality is stranger than fiction as they say
although because you had interactions with people who you wouldn't want to meet, it kind of makes you more able to generally deal with all sorts of people, so its a good life lesson, if the danger wasn't present.

Jeffrey said...


You need to stop hanging around with older men.



Touta said...

hahahaha....i never thought you were the jealous type

Jeffrey said...


I was VERY jealous. How clever of that old codger to get your cellphone number like that. I wish I had thought of that.

Rock on, Touta.


attawie said...

Touta! :D

I missed your posts and stories.

Actually I don't take trains or public transportations, or maybe a taxi once every other month when needed. but I fly a lot and I do know how annoying people get on a plane. A guy even proposed to me while flying from Dubai to Amman, and no it was not for himself. he wanted me to marry his brother O_O how silly one can get?

anyways, I always help people to tell their relative or friends that they are taking of or landing, mostly old ladies. it really feel nice to help. So don't let this drunk spoil it for you dear :)

I always have the same question in my head. Friends say I'm lucky I still picture Baghdad the way it was. But I guess beloved Baghdad is not about the buildings, streets, ... etc (even though I love our houses, roofs and palm trees) but it's more about our families, friends and style of living and how you're connected with everyone.

This turning into an email rather than a comment :S
Talk to you soon dear and keep updating us :)

attawie said...

One more thing, I just remembered Boris Jonson's interview on TopGear and how he banned boose on the tube. People never liked that but I guess they would see his point of view when they hear stories about drunks and how they're annoying poor touta.

Touta said...

hahaha, thanks? i won't be voting for any 'old codgers' now :D

boris johnson did ban drinking alcohol on trains/tube, but he didn't ban drunk people getting on there....:D
and hehehe your story made me laugh :)) poor atta
and you are right, perhaps we are lucky we still have that mental image, but what is soo frustrating is when other people (mostly our own people) try to convince us there is no hope blah blah blah. it gets so arrogant etc :)

Anonymous said...

beautiful Touta, i love reading you its very refreshing. sad to see human wastes like the Scottish human whisky barrel you were stuck with on the train. and you are right with age wherever you will go after the sparkle of newness fades away the rosy glasses fall off and you see things for what they really are (and at the same time trying not to give in too much to scepticism). i'd say still take the tube/train in London I found out that from all means of transport these are the least tedious.....busses, you always end up sitting to the 3 sizes too big 40 year old woman who for some reason finds sitting on you more comfortable than her seat. walking you always end up behind a herd of teenage tourists who have all spontaneously stop at the same time to smoke a cigarette while their teacher goes into the shop to ask for directions/ or stuck behind the family of German tourist who all wearing the same sock/sandal/khaki shorts uniform decide to walk in one line blocking access to the rest of the side walk.........driving/cab not so bad you get to have your personal space free from random people invasion but the traffic jams are enough to make any Tibetan monk a neurotic wreck

Touta said...

awwwww inti a7la as they say :D
hahahah you're right about the bus thing though, i've concluded i have a very comfortable lap for people to sit on..:))
you pretty muxh nailed the description of london, its funny how stereotypical it can all seem right?
and as for tibetan monks...i saw a congregation of them in speakers corner!! hehehe they did occasionally look neurotic and baffled by the shouting preachers. :)