Like every week at this hour, the metro was overcrowded. I had managed to occupy the last space remaining in the car at the previous station. I really could not afford to take the next train or else I would have been late for my train back home. Someone tried to push his way in after me and I was this close to kicking him. The heat inside the metro was unbearable. Outside it was snowing but here it felt more like the Sahara or rather some tropical forest. The man next to me _ maybe I should say below me providing how much packed together we were _ stinked horribly. I wondered how many days had passed since he last took a shower. I thought I would faint a few minutes later if I could not get farther away from him. I tried thinking about Mary that was waiting for me back home and the wonderful week end we would spend together. This was my only weekend off for about a month and it was the only thing I was thinking about for a week.
At last the door of the train was opening. I still had twenty minutes to get my ticket and step into the train. I took a few seconds to get myself together and concentrate on what was important. A ticket machine was free right in front of me, so I rushed to it and started entering my ticket information. A message appeared on the screen.
Due a to a central server error, it is impossible to retrieve your ticket from this machine. Please use the ticket office to retrieve your tickets.
This was not a big problem, as there was a booth over there with just one person. This should be very quick. The man before me appeared to be the slowest man in the whole world. I know this sounds like a cliché but this one really was a contender to the world title. When it took his wallet from his pocket, it looked like the super slow motion they show on TV during sports. Now he was starting to count his coins, but he had trouble seeing them, so it took him about ten seconds to find the right focal point where he could see clearly.
Excuse me sir, do you mind if I help you, I'm in a hurry, maybe I could help you with your coins...
Are you insinuating I am too old to be able to handle this on my own ? he replied while staring at me.
No sir, of course not, I'm just saying that ..
So please mind your own business and be a patient, he said with a remarkable confidence.
He may have been old and slow but he still looked very strong and I decided it was maybe not a good idea to continue this conversation. The anger was starting to grow inside of me and I didn't want to end up fighting an old man.
A few minutes later, the old man finally stepped away and I could start explaining my situation to the young woman inside the booth. A few meters away, a young black man was playing his guitar. I had no idea what he was playing or whether it was beautiful or not, because all I could hear was a noise that was preventing me from hearing her answers. I tried talking louder and louder, but I did not seem to work. The young woman remained calm and kept asking me the same question about some card that I still could not understand. At this time I was almost sure that I would miss my train, the last train going to Brugges this day.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I don't remember what passed trough my head at this moment but I gave a large swing in the air with my elbow, hitting with a strength I did not know I had the man behind me. When I looked back, I realized I had hit a policeman that probably only wanted to tell me to be a little more quiet. On the distance, I saw his two colleagues running in my direction. My weekend was definitively ruined.
By the window I could see the snow slowly falling on the city. I had been working inside this tiny booth for four hours, doing the same task again and again. I would just enter the information the client would give me, collect the money and give them the ticket. I don't know if it was due to the weather or to the beginning of the weekend but the clients were particularly ungrateful. I had already been insulted five times this day, even once in a language that I didn't know but was not very hard to understand what was meant. I had been working here for a month so I had become accustomed to this type of attitudes and I did not even react to this kind of provocation. Only the music of a young talented man playing Soul music with his guitar was helping me staying awake. He was playing here every Friday since I started working here and I really enjoyed hearing him.
I was helping a nice old man to buy his ticket to Paris. He told me that he was going there to meet some old friend he had not met for ten years, when he retired from his job as chief financial officer in a car company. You could see the years on his face but it was easy to see at first glance that he was still active and full of strength and dynamism.
While helping this man, my eyes were attracted to a middle-aged man that was trying to retrieve a ticket from a ticket machine. He couldn't stand in place and kept oscillating like a boat during a storm. His foot kept hitting the floor frenetically. He clearly was in a hurry and on the verge of becoming crazy of anger. He hit the machine, then looked around and ran to my booth.
I continued helping the old man to buy another ticket while keeping an eye on the other man as I had a bad feeling about him. He kept looking at his watch every ten seconds and doing some kind of dance like when you have an urgent need to pee, but in a much more violent and jerky way.
He started talking to the old man. I could not hear what they said of the window separating us but I suppose he was telling him to hurry up. The old man answered very firmly and went on as if nothing had happened. Behind him, the nervous man stepped backward and stayed there quiet for a few minutes, like a child punished by his parents. I finished helping the old man who kindly thanked me for my patience and complimented me.
As soon as he left the booth, the man rushed to the booth and started talking so fast that I almost did not understand what he wanted. I gently asked him to calm down and repeat slowly. He kept shouting louder and louder that he needed the ticket to Brugges he had bought trough the Internet. I tried asking him that I needed to see his reduction card to be able to give him his ticket. But it was almost useless as he never stopped talking. I made a small gesture to one of the policeman in the area asking for help, as I had no idea how to get out of this situation. I kept the same inexpressive face I had learned during my first month here because I was afraid that showing my fear would only make him angrier. I had see on Discovery channel that you should never show your fear to an angry animal and I don't know why but this is the first thing that popped into my mind.
The policeman put his hand on the man's shoulder to try to calm him down. The second he had done that, the man hit him directly in the face with his elbow, like a professional kick-boxer. I used the communication system to alert the other policemen in the area to come and neutralize the man. My boss told me to go home early because I had reacted the right away and avoided a bigger problem.