People fascinate me. I’m not a habitual watcher of people, and don’t deliberately seek out interesting people to spy on, but occasionally, usually in cities, I see someone intriguing.
Yesterday, by the entrance to Tottenham Court Road tube station, a man was handing out free samples of a new Kellogg’s cereal called Krave. Independent findings from The Student Room have been unfavourable, observing variously that Krave tastes “rank”, “of sick” and “like a dog had farted directly into my mouth”. I neglected to take the proffered carton to find out for myself and remain unenlightened. Standing to one side of the man was a family of four, Hispanic-looking, all of them eating directly from open packets of Krave. Almost without thinking I invented a history for them, deciding that this was an impoverished family spending the day as tourists in London who, finding themselves hungry but possessing little ready money, had happened fortuitously on a man giving away free food. It was the eating of the cereal without milk that moved me, whether done through choice or ignorance. It’s curious what the human heart finds tender.
A little later, in the course of browsing sale items in Blackwell on Charing Cross Road, I noticed a bespectacled and somewhat portly middle-aged man, respectably dressed, apparently a middle-management type, slumped in a chair holding an open copy of a hardback by Robert Winston and gently dozing. I wondered why such a man should be asleep in Blackwell during working hours. People always appear most vulnerable and pitiable when asleep. I took my reduced NYRB edition of The Goshawk by T.H. White (£2) and assumed the seat next to him. As I read the introduction and listened to Brahms’ Third Racket I kept vigil, occasionally looking over my shoulder to monitor his progress. After about half an hour he was roused by a loud conversation between members of staff, and presently rose and left.
These people don’t know I have cared about them, however momentarily, and probably wouldn’t welcome my sympathy if they did, and it almost feels patronising to them to write this, though that is not my intention. I wonder what they’re doing now. Whatever it is, they don’t know I’m thinking about them.