A few years back my daughter was coming home on the tube.
It was nighttime and the train was pretty crowded.
She was sitting down listening to her music on her headphones.
Just a normal, uneventful tube journey.
Until she looked up and saw everyone was staring at her.
At first she thought she was imagining it.
But, as she looked up and down the carriage it was true.
Everyone’s eyes were wide open and focussed on her, like headlights.
She said it felt like a bad dream.
Slowly she reached up and took off her headphones so she could hear what was going on.
Everything was silent, except for a single shrieking voice.
She looked around to see where it was coming from, and there was a woman halfway down the carriage screaming at her.
She said it was like something out of a horror movie, the woman was possessed, her face was contorted with rage.
She looked like she was ready to kill my daughter.
And the voice coming from her didn’t sound human.
It was yelling something like “You fucking Paki, looking at me with your fucking devil eyes, I’ll kill you.”
It didn’t make any sense.
My daughter is half Chinese, so maybe her Asian looks had triggered something in this woman.
She didn’t know what to do as the woman started to get up and come towards her.
As she did, an elderly black lady sitting next to the woman tried to stop her.
The woman hit the black lady.
As she did, a skinhead sitting on the other side stood up and shouted “No. That’s enough”.
He grabbed the woman and put his arms round her to restrain her.
A businessman got up and came over to help.
The woman was screaming and spitting at them and my daughter.
Just then the train pulled into Camden Town.
The doors opened and the two men carried the woman onto the platform and started looking for a guard to help.
Then the doors closed and the train moved off.
My daughter sat there frozen, too shocked to move.
She didn’t understand what had happened or the speed at which it had happened.
Nobody said anything.
They didn’t know if the woman knew my daughter or not.
Obviously the woman was crazy.
But what had triggered it?
An internal conversation in her head, started by seeing my daughter who reminded her of some terrible perceived injustice?
In her head she did what we all do, she started to say what she wanted to say in real life.
Except she wasn’t just saying it in her head.
The division between the inside and the outside world disappeared for this woman.
There was no division between imagination and reality.
And it shows what a narrow, fragile line that really is.
We all have to remember that, even in small everyday situations.
What’s going on inside our head isn’t the same as what’s going on in the world outside our head.
Outside our head is reality.
Inside our head is an interpretation of that reality.
Knowing the difference is probably what sanity is.