When you’re in the eye of an emergency, it’s extraordinary what the human brain chooses to act on. All the things you’d think might count when shoring up to a potential life/death situation actually don’t. Something else takes over, and you just have to run with it: the questions can come later. In my fantasy assault, I assumed I’d get a brief but vivid flashback of my pitiful existence, exalting the very few who thought my time on Earth worthwhile. But last Saturday night, sat on the top deck of a replacement bus, reading a book and minding my own business, I was threatened by a murder of youths at knifepoint. The consequent rush of fear and adrenalin threw up something entirely unexpected:
I thought of one person. Not family, not a partner or child (I have neither), not even a favoured friend. But someone I needed to conjure up when there was a strong possibility my days could end before a minute was through. I thought about her own family; I thought about the children she would have that I’d never meet; I imagined a scenario wherein I could communicate, as in The Lovely Bones, benevolent guidance from the beyond that would keep her on track. All of this in what must have been approximately five seconds.
At exactly the same time, more practical stuff was doing the rounds. My blood, viscous and cadmium red against the cobalt blue seats, would surely take a while to shift? I saw the exasperated staff at the depot, kept back on my account, at once grateful for the hours yet bitterly resenting their time away from home. I considered the poor unfortunate who had decided to end his/her days on the bleak strip of track between Waterloo and Clapham Junction, forcing me into my own predicament. I even wondered if we might meet (seeing as our time of departure would have been similar) on the great staircase leading to the afterlife. And I wondered which fucker would judge my piss-stained jeans in the celestial cloakroom.
It was over in a blink. One of the eight talked the brandisher out of it and they shot off into the night, no doubt giving the incident barely a second’s thought. But for me, it was the first time my fragile state of being had been put in serious jeopardy, and it has left dark matter I could do without. After they’d gone, I realised I was wearing an absurd Hawaiian shirt I’d bought earlier for my brother’s 50th birthday party. And that really got to me. Because that’s how I would have been found, clad in pantomime costume as inappropriate to the moment as Joni Mitchell’s The Last Time I saw Richard set to Hard House Techno. Listen up if you have to.
At no point at all did I process the concept of survival. Make of that what you will.