A couple of years ago I was on a night-bus. It was just after midnight and I was sitting at the back of the bus, listening to music, so I didn’t immediately notice that it had stopped moving.
When I did, I looked up and took my headphones out. We were at the stop near the Bull and Last pub in Kentish Town.
A dishevelled looking woman was trying to get on the bus and she either didn’t have either enough money or didn’t have an Oyster card. I can’t remember. Anyway, the driver was refusing to take her anywhere and she was refusing to get off the bus.
The driver turned the engine off and there was a stand-off.
The few people on the bus started getting involved. At first there was tutting and muttering, then one man shouted at the woman to get off, that some of us had homes to go to. Another woman accused her of being selfish.
I sat in the back doing and saying nothing. I didn’t want to get involved.
After a good ten minutes of this, a young man – early twenties at most – walked down from the upper floor towards the driver and the woman.
‘I’ll pay for her,’ he offered and for some reason the driver still seemed reluctant. The young man was calm. ‘Look, mate, we’re all just trying to get home, please let me pay.’
The people on the bus started shouting at him now too, telling him she shouldn’t be allowed on the bus if she didn’t have money.
The young man looked at these people and said, again, calmly but loudly this time, ‘You can’t have a go at her for not having money. We’re on a night-bus, none of here is exactly winning, are we? Show some respect.’
There was some scoffing and swearing but eventually people settled. The bus driver took his payment, started the engine and we got going.
The woman took a seat and kept her head down and the young man went back upstairs.
I felt ashamed that I had sat there and done nothing.
For months afterwards, I had this thought that if it was the end of the world, if say I was on the underground and there was a bomb threat, or we were in a war, it would be a young man like this who would save us. It wouldn’t be the high-flying bankers, Oxford educated barristers and it certainly wouldn’t be me – it would be an unassuming man or woman, possibly coming home from a zero hours contract job, who would show a bravery, selflessness and clarity of thought that would put the rest of us to shame.
I remembered this man when I saw a post on twitter yesterday from a woman praising her son, Alex. ‘My son Alex has aspergers/dyslexia. Despite my best efforts he’s always compared himself to his more academically able siblings. Felt his job @Tesco was less worthy. But my boy gets up, walks two miles to work and fills your shelves without fail everyday. To me he’s such a hero.’
We are seeing a lot of heroes right now. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, postmen, cooks, firefighters, green-grocers, sanitation workers, truck drivers, pharmacists, supermarket staff, refuse collectors, street cleaners, delivery people, teachers, teaching assistants, volunteers bringing food to people in isolation.
These people will not be glorified in ten-page spreads in Hello! magazine, nor will their work afford them a sprawling country pile with swimming pool and tennis courts. Still they do their work. They keep our society going.
I have a lot to learn from them.
I just hope I remember these lessons when we are out the other side. I hope I don’t go back to worshipping all the wrong things.
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