Stephanie Scala: Suspicious Minds

Everyone seems a little bit more jittery on the tube this morning. I wonder if it has anything to do with that new ‘high octane’ drama on TV last night. Real edge-of-the-seat stuff with two terrorist attacks in the first episode alone.

TANNOY: “If you see anything suspicious like an unattended bag or package do not approach it, report it to a London Transport worker: See it, say it, sorted”.

OK I’ve got this! I can spot at least two suspicious characters in my vicinity straight away.  What can I detect about them just by their appearance and without them being aware that I’m checking them out? I obviously haven’t been as subtle as I thought as one of them is now staring at me intently with a malevolent expression on his face. Or is that just his normal expression? Now, would a terrorist be wearing shoes like that I wonder? They look expensive leather, hand-made, and not the type you’d see on the high street. If I were a terrorist would I be wearing shoes like that along with a freshly ironed shirt? Would one bother to ‘dress up’ for such a grisly task? So that’s him ruled out then.

Rucksacks are today’s briefcase. No-one uses a briefcase anymore – not since the 80s anyway.  No doubt, they will be stuffed with gym kits ready for a lunch time work-out. Look for wires hanging out of rucksacks, I remember reading that somewhere. Surely, no self-respecting terrorist would leave wires hanging out of their deadly cargo. That would be telegraphing their intentions.

Every other man seems to have a beard nowadays. Beards used to be the domain of artists and geography teachers, not City workers. That reminds me of my old boss who used to say he never trusted a man who wore brown shoes, sported a beard or wore a bow tie. Well he was in his 80s. Now that both beards and brown shoes are on trend it’s probably just as well that he’s retired rather than be faced with these questionable looking characters on every corner.

Two new dubious characters step on at the next stop: A middle-aged man and a much younger one in his twenties. It is possible they are father and son, or perhaps colleagues, however, even though obviously together they don’t talk to each other, it’s as if they are trying to feign that they are not acquainted. The younger one sits down. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe you would sit down if you’re malintent. Surely, you’d be brimming with adrenalin and pent up nervous energy. They alight two stops later.

Just one left to eliminate from my enquiries. Now that the carriage has thinned out I can get a better look. He hasn’t moved from the same spot since boarding which must have been at least 10 stops ago. Posture ram-rod straight, eyes staring directly ahead. Clothes neither trendy nor smart, trainers that have seen better days and the ubiquitous rucksack. No obvious wires hanging out though. Does he look nervous or pent up? He appears more like a man in a trance, steeling himself for a mission. This is it. He fits the profile perfectly. I move further away from him down the aisle. I can’t risk looking at him again though. I know, I’ll use my mobile as a surveillance camera, the way the guy did in the drama last night to spot a sniper on the roof without putting himself in any jeopardy. I don’t even have to turn the mobile on, the mobile’s black surface acts as a mirror allowing to see behind me and yes, he is still there.

After a fraught 30 minutes travelling, I finally arrive at my stop, what a relief, what a journey.  I made it! Now that I am still alive and can breathe, free to face another day, I can focus on the day ahead. I ponder at what meetings, appointments are in the work diary

Good, I’m the first to arrive at the office which means I can collect my thoughts before the onslaught of demands. The external doorbell rings, which means the receptionist is late again. The thundering traffic noise on the street muffles the voice on the other end of the intercom. I buzz them up.

The office doorbell rings. Approaching the glass door I can see a man standing on the other side. It is the man from the tube.  What to do? He must have seen me looking at him and has now come for me with a personal vendetta. He smiles benignly through the glass door, holding up his identity card. He’s come to sanitise the water cooler.