The other day in one of London’s quiet underground carriages, I was distracted by the surprisingly loud clattering of two old ladies. Dentures rattling, shriek voices and whiffs of perfumes as they gestured around… People around seemed not to care, they were attentively reading their papers or looking at their nails. But I could see faint smiles on their faces: These deliciously old-fashioned white-haired ladies were animatedly discussing the best way to go to Kings Cross while they were heading south on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line. Wrong direction and wrong branch.
It is London and in such a situation the best thing to do is keep yourself to yourself. Do not interfere, do not engage and do carry on. You do not interact with others unless expressively required to. Therefore, everybody was listening to the conversation but nobody dared interrupting to advise them to get out of the tube now or end up in Morden. It was all so very politely although uselessly English that I couldn’t help but smiling. (I didn’t dare to say anything though: I wasn’t going to be a noisy French.)
Suddenly one of the old ladies turns to me and asks ‘Excuse-me Miss, my friend and I were wondering… how do we get to Kings Cross?‘ So I tried to use my best English and do my very best to tell them that they’re on the wrong-est tube possible without upsetting them. I wouldn’t want them to think I think they were senile.
To my dismay, once I was done explaining, they started laughing. Little chuckling noises first, then bursts of hysterical, uncontrollable and very loud laughter. Sometimes they would stop, contemplate their shoes, try to be silent and just like kids with fits of laughter they would look at each other only to start howling again, shaking, crying and wiping their eyes with their flowery tissues. Little by little, their cheerfulness gained the carriage. People were looking at the old ladies with concern and at one another with amused smiles.
When I alighted a couple of stops later, they saluted me with a ‘See you on your way back! We’ll probably still be here!’ And the tube doors slid closed on another roar of laughter.