I was minding my own business on the train today, listening to the news podcasts on my iPod Touch. Commuting to and fro on public transport are the only available times for me to read the news and for the past week, i have not been able to do so because i have been driving to the clinic where i have been posted. I am way behind the news is all i can say.
Anyway, in the middle of my commute, i saw this bloke, clearly with a disability, Tourette’s i think, walking up and down the aisle. I made nothing of it. The last thing these people want is probably unwarranted attention from yet another spectator. I was sitting in a seat that faces the opposite direction and i noticed the expressions on the other commuters’ faces. A few were staring at something at the end of the carriage behind me, others were visibly craning their necks. I scanned the commuters who were standing and they were gazing somberly behind me. I resisted the urge to turn behind and look. I was not curious but i wanted to ensure that i will not be embroiled in any trouble that was brewing.
Amidst all these, i finally decided to remove my headphones. I heard kids yelling behind me and laughing away.
“Don’t let him sit beside me!”
“No, that way!”
I turned around and saw a couple of kids in school uniforms and dismissed it as a couple of teenagers just having a dig at the other gender; behaviour characteristic for their age. Then the occupant of the seat opposite me left at his stop. The guy who was stumbling up and down the aisle took up the seat.
“Sorry,” he mumbled an apology as he nearly tripped over me.
“That’s all right,” i murmured with a smile.
He had several motor tics and he nearly put his feet up on the seat.
“Oh no, i will get into trouble for putting my feet up on the seats. Do you know what trouble is?” he asked me.
I groaned inwardly to myself. Unsure whether it was his condition causing him to babble or if he was being racist (it is a common misconception in this country that Asians have a poor grasp of the English language), i put on a blank expression, ignored him and whipped out my handphone to pretend that i have something to do. I also did notice that now i am in the circle of attention that i was trying to avoid, because the person of everyone’s attention is sitting opposite me.
The guy continued with his tirade.
“Trouble means guilty and annoyance and train inspectors…”
I struggled to remember the condition that i have learnt whilst on my psychiatric rotation. The condition where patients can’t stop talking and keep linking words madly and illogically – Knight’s move thinking in Schizophrenia. Did this guy have a psychiatric illness as well?
For some reason, suddenly something clicked into place. I tuned into the teenagers’ laughter, put two and two together and finally understood. Those teenagers were behaving cruelly. This guy wanted a place to sit and the reason he was so unsettled, moving up and down the aisle, garnering more attention to himself, and probably exacerbating his tics and thought disorder, was because the kids behind were taunting and laughing at him. Until the previous occupant vacated the seat, he could not sit down quietly. Worse, none of the commuters who i now understood, were glaring at those dumb kids, said anything.
I was very sad when i alighted at my stop. I tried to tell myself that they were just kids and did not know any better but deep down i knew that i never behaved like that when i was their age. Why did the parents of those children not educate them better? Worse, what if the parents themselves behave like that? It is very difficult to break through the stigma of mental illnesses in modern society.