Asking for assistance

Who: Michael Henderson

When: May 1999.

Where: Spring Road station, Birmingham, England

Train: Coventry to Birmingham

This particular morning was particularly crowded. Most trains were overloaded but this train had the commuters hard-packed into the space by the doors so just entering the train was difficult. What annoys me about commuters is that no one makes any effort to move their bags and coats to overhead luggage spaces, so by clutching their bags against their bodies, an extra 30% of space is taken up with the racks remaining frustratingly empty.

It was unto me to take the lead. I wanted to put my case up on the rack but it was just out of reach and I couldn’t move close because of the compressed bodies around me. A man standing sideways onto me, standing just under the luggage rack caught my eye and so I politely asked him if he could put my case in the rack for me. He obliged and I was able to to pass my case over the heads of the other passengers.

What happened next stunned me.

Rather than placing the case up on the rack, he swung my case about using just one arm. It took two or three swings to get it up on the rack. Because it was crowded where he was standing, several other passengers were having to duck out of the way of my case swinging through the air.

What I saw next mystified me even more.

A couple of passengers were staring at me with hate in their eyes. I had never realised until this point how expressive peoples eyes can be when it comes to hate. The expression “shooting daggers” comes to mind. I couldn’t fathom why I was getting all the hate when I was doing the sensible thing and some other guy chose to swing my case about.

Then he turned round and it all makes sense.

The man I had asked to place my case had only one arm. Not "one arm" like his broken arm was in a sling - but his right arm curtailed into a stump just below his shoulder, and was visible through his shirt. His angle was such that the other passengers could see it, but I couldn’t until he turned round.

Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get off the train. But the worst part was collecting my case at my stop, which was now just over his head.

Questions I will never know the answer to:

  • What are the chances of asking the only one-armed man in the vicinity for assistance?
  • Why me?