It was a Tuesday evening at around 9pm when my anxiety took hold on the London Underground. It had been a long day. Cygnet was with his father and I had stayed late at work. I sat down next to the window and stared into the distance.
I got on the train at Leicester Square in central London. A man got on at the next stop. He was lugging a heavy cello case. He sat down opposite me and next to a girl who I guess was in her twenties listening to her head-phones. He placed the cello case between his legs. We went through a couple of stations without event or incident.
About 6 or 7 minutes into his journey, the man suddenly got up and asked the girl in the head-phones to look after his cello case. He leaned it against the seat next to her and opposite me. He then walked swiftly off down the length of the train. He didn’t say where he was going or when he would be back. The girl carried on listening to her head-phones with the cello case next to her.
Those of you who travel on the London Underground will know that there aren’t any toilets on the train, so he couldn’t have been going to the toilet. If he was going to look for a friend on the train then why didn’t he take his cello case with him?
I could feel my anxiety starting to take hold of me. This incident was only a few days after the attempted attack on a London Underground train at Parson’s Green. You could fit a hell of a lot of explosives into a cello case, and the owner of said cello case had apparently abandoned his cello case opposite me.
Everyone else on the underground train appeared totally relaxed. The girl with the head-phones was still listening to her music. Her breathing was easy and settled, whereas mine, by now was laboured, erratic and fast. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Why was no-one else panicking?
Our train stopped at its next stop – Kennington. I thought about getting off and waiting for the next train. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t get up quickly enough and the doors were closing. The train was pulling away from the platform. Maybe he had got off the train at Kennington. Maybe he had left the train at an earlier stop. His cello case still sat staring at me. My heart was still pounding. I tried to focus on my breathing and to talk myself out of my anxiety.
About five minutes later he returned. He thanked the girl with the head-phones and sat down on the seat opposite. He put the cello case back between his legs and put his own head-phones on. He didn’t say where he had been.
You would think that at this point my breathing would have calmed and I would have realised what an anxiety-ridden idiot I had been. But I didn’t calm down. I was overwhelmed with anger. How could anyone, three days after an attempted terrorist attack on the London Underground be so ignorant and insensitive as to leave a bag unattended – and not just any old bag, but a cello case big enough to carry enough explosives to pulverise the lot of us?
I thought about shouting at the guy. I thought about telling him how insensitive, selfish and irresponsible he had been. I thought about letting my anger out. But that is not me. I am not an outwardly angry person. I keep my anger, anxiety and frustration inside so it eats away at me rather than others.
I sat in silence and focussed on my breathing.
I got off the train a couple of stops later. I sent a whatsapp message to a group of close friends. One friend reassured me that my anxiety was normal and that she would have been just as paranoid.
Another friend told me to go home, pour myself a glass of wine and put Bake Off on.
It was, after all, caramel week.