Sometimes a protector is looking out for you from a distance. Hidden by shadows, one of many faces in a crowd, or invisible by standing in plain sight. You may not see them but they are there – unfortunately, they cannot be everywhere.
Yesterday, I was on the underground in London going to Wembley to visit Michaela community school, run by Katherine Birbalsingh – she is also the new boss of the Social Mobility Commission. The school is amazing but a story for another day.
During my journey, a woman in her late twenties got on the train and sat opposite me, quickly followed by a man in his forties who sat next to her. There were plenty of spare seats in the carriage so no need to sit next to someone you did not know. It was odd, it caught my attention.
The lady closed her eyes as many do on the underground. Part contemplation, part avoiding eye contact with strangers. I watched the man next to her take this opportunity to look her up and down. Not once, but many times. His body language was strange – the way he constantly stretched his neck, his rapid eye movement and the fidgeting of his hands. He was not in a calm state of mind.
On two occasions he stood up and walked the length of the carriage, only to return to the same seat. They call this type of behaviour 'pacing' – it can be a precursor to an attack. I moved my bag away from my feet to ensure I could stand at any moment.
My mind was racing, my heart was pumping. What was this man going to do? Was I just overreacting to a man with anxiety issues? Choices had already been made by my conscience. I was not leaving the train with both individuals on it, and I was not going to allow the lady to leave if the man was also getting off. I would convince her to stay on board for another stop. This would be difficult for she had no idea what I could see – but I would insist.
The train stopped at a station and the strange man stood up. As the doors opened to allow passengers to step onto the platform, he stopped and turned around. He looked straight at the lady, raised a pointed finger, and shouted aggressively. His London accent was strong. I could not make out what he shouted, but it was something about the way she dressed or her clothes. He stepped off the train and the doors closed.
She was startled and confused. I smiled at her and said two words in the hope of reassuring her: crazy guy. She half-smiled back.
A strange man was a potential danger on that train that day. But an unassuming man had spotted the danger and was willing to put himself in harm's way to be a protector. Not because he was tough and could fight, but because he would not be able to live with himself if he did not.
Similar incidents are repeated every day throughout the country by unknown men - whether it be protecting women, children or other men. A hundred thousand years of generic programming is hard to ignore and impossible to switch off.
Remember, it is men who shout 'women and children first!'