The longest September on record has ended. It dragged on so long, I convinced myself it was time to move the clocks back already. My family stopped me at the last moment, just as I was about to interfere with all the digital displays around the house.
September is traditionally the month of New School Year resolutions for me, as I feel inspired by warm memories of sandy beaches and lingering sunsets, my tan still glowing. This year, as we came back from ten days of solid rain in North Yorkshire, I could not be asked.
Highlights of the month. One trip to a half-empty local cinema, one trip to a half-empty local hairdressing salon, one track and trace check-in at a half-empty Costa, one chicken caesar baguette at half-empty Pret, one stroll around half-empty John Lewis store, and one walk in the countryside along half-empty paths, amidst half-empty fields, travelling to work on half-empty trains. You get an idea.
Oh, yes, one more thing. A week or so into this most unlikely September, I found myself an unwilling participant in a mask rage incident on London public transport. The 15.36 to West Croydon via Crystal Palace, from London Victoria, platform 11, to be precise. What’s more, it wasn’t my usual, mobile-at-the-ready bystander’s role. No. This time I was thrown bang in the middle of the action, a villain or a victim, depending on where you stand on these things.
As usual, I arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, walked the length of the platform and got onto the first carriage. I had it all to myself, so I took my mask off and started munching through a punnet of cherries. And not just any cherries, but M&S, end of season, soft and plump, dark red, just ripe enough, not too sweet, absolute bliss cherries.
‘Put your mask on!’, I heard an angry male voice behind me, ‘Put it on, put it on, you need to have your mask on when you are on the train, put it on now, you stupid bitch, PUT IT ON NOW!’
I do not respond well to people shouting at me, never have, so I ignored him, and reached for another cherry. That enraged him beyond all reasonable expectations. Within seconds of me taking another bite, his whole body shuddered, he did a small jump on the spot, raised his preaching finger at me. To his credit, he kept a safe distance at all times, as per government guidelines.
‘Put your mask on, you bitch! Show some respect, you are not allowed to eat on the train, look at all this saliva!’, at this point he stopped his rant, to run his fingers down his face to illustrate the imaginary streaks of saliva drooling down his cheeks.
He was properly fired up now.
I spat out a cherry stone, slowly and discreetly, into my hand. He must have seen it as a personal insult, and raised his voice a notch.
‘You disrespectful bitch! You have no respect for me, you have no respect for the law, you have no respect for yourself, you fucking bitch!
I looked around and considered my options. We were the only two people in the carriage, the train was leaving in about three minutes. I was about to get up and move to a different carriage, when he ran up to the door and stuck his head out. ‘Excuse me! Guards! Security! Please remove this woman from the train, she is refusing to put her mask on, she is eating on the train, she is not allowed to eat on the train!’.
Next thing I knew, two laid back, well-built six footers in orange high viz uniforms strolled into the carriage. The mask enforcer set off again, ‘She is not wearing a mask, tell her she needs to put it on now!’ One of the guards, visibly bored, looked at me and said, ‘but she is eating’. It was the wrong thing to say.
‘She is NOT ALLOWED to eat on the train! tell her that, she is a disrespectful bitch, she needs to wear a mask but she doesn’t, she is a law-breaking bitch, and she has white privilege!’
That was enough for one of the guards. Still relaxed, he said to the man, come on, cool it man, there is no need to for that. Madam, would you like to move to the next carriage? He gestured towards me, shielding me from the mask warrior with his body. I packed the cherries away, put on my mask and changed carriages.
As I was leaving, I looked at the fuming vigilante one more time. Until he mentioned white privilege, I assumed he was white himself, perhaps Southern European, or whatever. His race was the last thing on my mind, as I was assessing his level of aggression against me and my cherries.
Incidentally, the two security guards who came to my rescue both most definitely identified as Black Caribbean.
This is not a story about race and colour, it’s about mask rage on a train due to my over-zealous love of cherries.
The fact that some people will go to great lengths to turn every story into one about race and colour, just came as an unexpected bonus.