The whole carriage lent forward in anticipation as the very old, very frail man tried to sit down. His legs seemed un-bendable and unco-operative. He swayed as the train began to pull away. We willed him backward into the safety of the seat with our eyes and imagined him falling. Finally, he plopped down, with the caring assistance of the stranger next to him. A silent but palpable cheer rippled through the vestibule. We felt good.
Just prior to this, the group of unknowns – about 15 or so – had been sitting or standing on the train in silence. Not acknowledging anyone outside their own companions.
Then, the cascade happened slowly at first, but building up momentum with each stop.
Central Station: A young woman asked Karen and I if we would like her seat. “No thanks!” we said and laughed “we’re not that old!”
Redfern: An older woman boarded, unsteady on her feet, she searched for a seat. “There’s a seat just there Madam” I said pointing. The others shuffled over so she could sit.
Sydneham: The group of 16 were alerted to trouble when a Transit Officer appeared and asked the young woman to vacate the seat she had offered us. We hadn’t heard what he had said and we didn’t know why she moved so quickly and almost guiltily. Perhaps she didn’t have a ticket? A collective ruffle of anti-authoritarian dissent joined the rest of us together. We all had our OPAL cards at the ready. We swiped, we thought sanctimoniously!
The transit officer guarded the empty seat zealously. We shot daggers at his back.
Wolli Creek: Another Transit Officer was waiting on the platform, with the aforementioned old man and his wife. He helped them tenderly onto the train. Their steps labourious and slow. He passed them over to the first Transit Officer, who guided them to the cleared seat. The plan, now revealed, made the group of strangers smile. “Awwww, that’s lovely” we all thought! This was Sydney Rail at its best.
The Transit Officer became an instant hero.
Next, a mum with her three children. Her youngest slapped the yogurt container out her hand. It went everywhere. The fellow sitting across from her offered tissues and wet wipes to help clean up the mess. The group of 16 smiled again. So nice! People are helping each other! The older fellow next to me said “Well, that’s two in a row” I guess meaning that’s two nice things in a row.
Rockdale Station – our destination. Heavy rain splattered against the windows. “We are going to get wet!”. I said to Karen.
And the tall, dark man said “Here, take my umbrella!”
“Really? Won’t you need it?”
“No, it’s fine I am catching the bus – you take it”
“Are you sure?” Karen asked.
He was adamant. It was not some crappy, falling apart $3 job – but a nice big golf umbrella. Big enough for two. Sturdy and expensive. Too much to give away to strangers.
The whole group smiled – no – beamed! We all recognised what had happened here. One kind deed had brought on another and then another.
In those few minutes, we were a family who cared about each other.
Well done Sydney!