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He sat staring ahead while listening to a rock song – his eyes focussed on the Central Line map. The London Underground tube train was speeding towards Marble Arch as my friends and I glanced at him from seats opposite.
Looking at him, anyone of the same ilk would say that he had the best music and the best tattoos. I could see that an angry skeleton was emerging from his collarbone and a bloody dagger from both wrists.
His hair was so black, it glowed purple. The two rings in his left nostril jingled together each time the train came to a jolt. His expressionless eyes were lined with thick black kohl that made them look like a furious pharaoh. As for the chain that hung from his hips – it could have easily held down four vicious pitbulls.
Most parts of his body were draped in dark leather and his boots were so huge, a footprint from them would frighten the meanest leopard.
With earphones positioned on both sides of his head, it was evident he was concentrating on the song playing at top volume. Had the train not been so loud, I’m sure the bass tones would have been felt clearly, thumping through my chest.
My companions were not used to travelling in the capital city, so they were unaware of the ‘Don’t stare a crazy person in the eye’ rule. So, while I averted my gaze, the other 3 scrutinised him with bemusement.
“Love is death!”
He suddenly shouted.
I closed my eyes to avoid the temptation to glance across.
“Love is death!”
He shouted again.
Like many hard-core rock music lyrics, the words sounded like they were penned by someone who was deeply depressed. Sad and angry. Angry and sad.
It came again, this time with a little more melody:
“Love is death!”
This went on for ages. Each time the sang his strange declaration, he became more impassioned and begun to look our way when he realised he had our attention.
I bit my lip, Marjorie pulled her cheeks in, Nigel closed his eyes and Abigail got out a book.
All of a sudden, Marjorie could bear it no longer and let out the loudest laugh. She put her hands up to her face to cover her eyes and leant forward with her shoulders shaking rapidly. Like a domino effect, her outburst set the rest of us off and we all sat in a row, bodies quivering in hysterics.
Our entertainer got the response he’d craved and moved on to a quieter song.
Had any of us been in a carriage with him all on our own, I don’t think our rocker ‘friend’ would have seemed so amusing. His attire and actions were chosen deliberately to intimidate people or to at least cause them to notice him.
But no matter how tough we pretend to be, we are all desperate to be loved, appreciated and understood.
Scary make-up, a bolshy manner, vocabulary littered with expletives, a plethora of tattoos, tribal art on our shoulder, a noisy car exhaust, a satanic bracelet, martial art awards, rebellion and an air of nonchalance may make us feel we are cool, tough and to be revered.
However, when we are approaching the time to be taken out of this world, we are as vulnerable as a newborn baby. No-one can fight death when it is staring them in the face. Death doesn’t care how mean you look and how many bar bells you can lift. It is in the throes of passing from this world into the next, that many people cry out to God for his mercy. And at that point, they don’t care how ridiculous they look or how wimpy they sound.
When Singer-man reached his destination, he stood up, chains clanking, leather squeaking.
But just before he had time to grab hold of the thick railings near the train doors, two items fell from the inside pocket of his jacket: a Danielle Steele book and a Chupa Chups lollipop. Not a bottle of Spirytus Vodka and a pamphlet on Wicca – a soppy love story and kiddie candy.
On his clown-white skin, a crimson colour spread from his neck to his forehead, indicating that these were his possessions. Once more, there were smiles along our row.
Maybe deep down, he wasn’t comfortable with who he was portraying himself to be. Maybe he considered his tattoos to be ugly, maybe the heavy chains caused him lower-back pain, maybe the thick leather caused him to sweat profusely and maybe, just maybe, his ears hurt from the high decibels going through them. Who knows?
All I know is, despite the tough exterior we like to show to the world, there’s a big softie inside all of us.