I look up from my Kindle as the tube stops. Bounds Green says the sign on the wall. The digital message that runs above the windows inside the carriage confirms the same thing.
People board the tube and take the seats of those who had disembarked moments before. Opposite me, a mother and her young son take their seats. Like me, she sits in the first seat, her little boy in the second, next to her. I turn my attention back to my Kindle and pay them no further notice.
I don’t like children. I find their energy too disruptive and parents don’t seem to notice the effect their child’s behaviour has on the people around them. It irritates me. I don’t have children of my own…never wanted any. But if I did have children, I would want them to be considerate and kind, and sit still when they’re travelling on the tube, or eating in restaurants.
The little boy opposite doesn’t sit still. He’s off the seat in no time. But thankfully, his mother doesn’t allow him to run around. Even though she is reading a newspaper, she holds on to his arm as the tube shakes and jerks along the tracks towards central London. He’s about five or six years old I estimate, and a very cute, good looking little boy with a friendly smile. He smiles at me. I smile back. Just because I don’t like children, doesn’t mean I am mean to them. He can’t help being a little boy. But that’s the problem. Small children, I find, have entirely too much energy. His mother directs him back to his seat and he slides onto it backwards, legs dangling. He’s too short for his feet to touch the floor when seated. He’s asking her for something.
I can’t make out what he’s saying, but it sounds urgent. I continue to read, knowing that the mother would take care of whatever it is the little boy needs. Only when we stop at the next station, do I hear that he’s asking if he can go to the toilet. The mother remains very calm.
“There is no toilet on the train. You’ll have to wait until we get off.”
“But I have to go now, mummy.”
“Where do you want to go? There is nowhere here.”
I can now see why the little boy is getting off the seat. He’s dancing from one foot to the other. Poor little thing. He’s clearly in urgent need of the loo. But again, his mother directs him to sit down and wait for their stop. I am beginning to admire him. He sits quietly for a little while before leaning towards his mother and whispering to her. I can’t hear what he’s saying but it’s clear that he is still talking about needing to go to the loo.
As there is nothing I, or anyone, can do to help the boy, I return to my Kindle. But moments later, a sudden flurry of activity opposite me, makes me look up again.
The boy had wet himself. I’m not surprised. His need to go seemed really urgently. What does surprise me is his mother’s reaction. She seems more concerned with cleaning the seat than she does her son. The little boy is standing in front of her, pee streaming from his shorts down his little legs. But the mother ignores him as she grabs tissues and tries to mop up the pee from the seat beside her. There’s too much of it and she has to give up, eventually covering the seat with the newspaper she had been reading. I decide her actions must betray a sense of embarrassment. Why else would she ignore her little boy to deal with a wet seat, instead?
Apparently satisfied that she had done all she could for the pee soaked seat, she turns her attention to her little boy. She wipes his legs with tissues that she adds to the wet ones already in her bag. I can’t imagine how wet everything else in her bag must be by now or what it must smell like.
I pretend to read but can’t tear my eyes away from the mother and son.
By the way the boy acts, it’s clear that this is not the first time he’s has had to pee in his pants in public. He looks around, and smiles at me and the other commuters who are also watching. I imagine his shy smile covers his humiliation. I wonder if it would affect him later?
Whether by design or because of what happened, they get off at the next stop, and I watch as the commuters around the seat warn others not to sit there. Despite the fact that the tube becomes more and more packed as rush hour on a Friday dictate it does, the seat remains empty. Only the newspaper occupies it.
Now, when I get on the tube, I never sit in the second seat even if it’s the only one available. It will forever remind me of the little boy, of his trauma, his humiliation, and the part of him he’d left behind on the tube.