On a train, about 3 weeks ago
You see him at the far end of the carriage. His once black coat now a tired shade of grey. It hangs onto him like loose skin, sagging at the shoulders, flopping around the elbows. Ticket, please. Thank you. Ticket, please. Thank you. He criss-crosses the coach muttering his endless litany as he checks the passengers for valid tickets. He doesn't dwell on the tickets for too long. A perfunctory glance, a vertical rip at the top right hand corner and it is returned to the owner. At this rate, he should reach you in the next few minutes.
But at five rows from where you are sitting, the entourage comes to an abrupt halt. He asks a passenger something. His ticket presumably. You see a head shaking as if to say no. You can see the expression on the ticket checker's face change. From dull nonchalance to one of brisk authority. You see him uttering a harsh rebuke as he scribbles something on his notepad. Does it say, this man was found travelling ticketless?, you wonder. And would he stick it on the free-rider's back to warn his colleagues of the danger this man poses? You watch as the hapless passenger is escorted to the door by the scruff of his collar. The rest of the carriage watches, smug in their law-abiding complacence. A mother points out to her little boy the evils of stow away travelling. You hope the boy grows up to be a responsible citizen of the world.
Ticket please. The voice is very close to you. A rip, a return. Ticket? Ticket? The voice is right above you. You look up at him. With a blank expression. What a silly little demand, you would like to have said. Ticket? the voice repeats not bothering to hide its irritation. I broke my arm in an accident last week, you say. The ticket checker looks at you with open hostility. And my house was burnt down, you add. And my wife ran away with the post man. You see a hand grabbing your collar.
What's the world coming to?