In a crowded train on Wednesday afternoon, there was a man hunkered down in the corner at the back of the carriage, muttering. From my standing-up view, I could see that he looked unwell: when he opened them, his eyes were red-rimmed, and he leaned his forehead onto the palm of his hand, rocking slightly as he spoke under his breath at some times, then louder at others, remonstrating, explaining, repeating. A man sitting two seats up from him, maybe in his late 20s, dressed in jeans and a beanie, was agitated by the ceaseless muttering: he twisted around from time to time in a (failed) attempt to eye the muttering man, and gripped his newspaper tensely. Then the muttering man started to chant, ‘Dick. Dick. Dick dick dick. Dick.’ It was too much for the man with the newspaper: he half-rose out of his seat, located the muttering man and said, loud enough for the carriage to hear, ‘Mate, can you stop that?’
Muttering man opened his eyes and said, ‘Yeah. I can.’
Newspaper man, having now seen the state of muttering man, was stuck. After such a public pronouncement, he couldn’t be seen to be backing down, and he also couldn’t be seen to be bullying a guy who was such a soft target. ‘Yeah, well mate, you better stop it, okay? I can see it’s hard for you to stop, but I don’t want to hear it, all right? If you’d been someone else I would have stopped you by now.’
Muttering man nodded, and, for a time, was silent.