Just because London is a vast and busy city, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t meetings and conversations that are resonant of village life…
It was a Monday morning – generally, I reckon, the nation’s least favourite day. Especially, I would have thought, a Londoner’s least favourite; cultural endeavours and weekend lie ins are abruptly brought to an end by a commuter train full of Metro papers and backpacks in faces, and another working week is started.
My Monday morning, however, was spent drinking coffee and writing essays, a core part of student life. Caffeine and work goes hand in hand like the Hammersmith and City Line and delays– one without the other somehow seems absurd. So it was not unusual, not out of the ordinary, to be set up in a café with an open laptop, books on the table, and a caffeinated beverage in hand.
The disadvantage to this independent set-up, however, is that it is a rather solitary exercise. Of course, this is often conducive to a decent essay, but sometimes it is social, useful even, to have a co-worker to share coffee runs with, or mind your station when you need to make a toilet trip.
A coffee down, I found myself wishing I had someone to mind my bags and laptop whilst I could nip to the loo. To my right was a quiet middle-aged man, nose in a newspaper and a toastie on the table. His plain black turban seemed rather conservative in comparison to his brightly coloured patterned jumper, which looked like something an aunt may have knitted. Interrupting him from his run-down of the day’s news, I kindly asked him if he would mind keeping an eye on my things for 5 minutes, to which he said ‘of course’.
On returning, I thanked the man, who nodded at me and then absorbed himself once more in his newspaper, by this time nearing the back sport pages. He then folded up his paper and turned to me. ‘One question’, he said. ‘How did you know to trust me? I could have run off with your laptop, taken your bags… You don’t know me’.
‘True’, I replied. ‘I don’t know you. But somehow I felt that I could trust you – you seemed content, quiet, and have a friendly face. Of course it was a risk, but if we never take risks, we won’t get anywhere in life’.
‘I feel touched’, the man continued, ‘you have made my day. How lovely to know that I seem like a trustworthy person. In such a big and busy city, people in London always expect the worst – there is not enough trust. I am going to mention this on my chat show tomorrow, this meeting’.
After talking to the man, it turns out he is a chat show host on the Sikh Channel, and opens each episode with an anecdote, of which our encounter would be one of them. On leaving, he gave me his card, the newspaper he’d finished, and offered to buy me a coffee (to which I politely declined, thinking ahead that this would induce more toilet trips, and therefore finding more laptop-watchers).
‘Thank you for trusting me’, he said, ‘and have a splendid day’. Even in a place as bustling, dangerous and hectic as London, there are glimpses of humanity, instances of conversation, and encounters that may never happen again, yet add a certain smile to your day. This was one of them.