Friday, 13 May 2011

Sad sign of the times?

Yesterday I did something I've never done before, and which made me surprised at myself.

I was on the bus home from work when, about four stops before mine, three guys got on. I'll get this out the way straight away - they were of what I would call Middle Eastern appearance (I have no idea if that's what they were, or if there's a PC way of saying that isn't going to upset someone but there you go). I had glanced out of the bus window while people were getting on and noticed the men talking to each other in the queue so I assumed, not unreasonably, that they knew each other.

Having bought their tickets, they then did something which I found rather odd - they separated, one went to almost the back row, one sat two rows in front of me and the third sat near the door on the folding-down, sideways seats. They were all carrying either a rucksack or a courier bag. Having sat down, they didn't speak or interact with each other again in any way, nor did they make eye contact. The guy nearest the door got a huge pair of headphones out of his bag, then some kind of smartphone, donned the headphones and seconds later, his lips were moving though no sound was coming out.

I don't know quite how long it took me to start feeling somewhat nervous but by the time we'd reached the stop two before my own, I'd decided to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way.

It's not like I actually sat there thinking "OK, these guys have to be terrorists because they look of Middle Eastern origin and have bags" but more "That is very weird behaviour"! Needless to say, having got off the bus, I watched it disappear on its way with no disasters and it's now no surprise that today's news wasn't full of "Suicide bombers hit Brighton bus".

It has, however, made me wonder a few things. Would I have had the same feelings if the three guys had been white? Or black? Or women? Or if I hadn't noticed them seemingly talking to each other in the bus queue?

Thinking back on it, my reaction seems extreme and unwarranted but I know that I was certainly feeling very uncomfortable during that short part of the journey - enough to make me get off (and walk uphill to get home!)

Is this a sad reflection on the times we live in? I like to think of myself as fairly unjudgemental - certainly at least on the basis of someone's appearance (like everyone else, I'm as judgemental as the next person once I've experienced someone's behaviour or attitudes) and I've always been very anti people being tarred with the same brush purely because of historical events. And yet that was, at least partly, what I did. I'm still mildly disappointed with myself but I can't guarantee that I wouldn't do exactly the same thing again.