The bus was packed with people. I was standing, ignoring the other tens of commuters dealing with traffic on their own, personal ways. As for me, I was doing what I usually do in traffic, listen to an audio book; “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins was the one.
Our senses have evolved for millions of years to protect us from dangers, and even in a relatively secure environment such a bus, my brain automatic response to a sudden but short-lived pain in my feet made me quickly look for the cause. The pain came along a “tut”, a sound of something hitting the bus’ floor. Both the pain and the sound caused my neck muscles to move to the right and my eyes to search for the cause.
To my surprise, I found a body on the floor, next to me. A young woman laying on the floor. Her knee hitting me had triggered my senses, along with the “tut” sound, which was her other knee hitting the unprotected floor. I, along with the others around, stared at her until our brains understood what had happened.
Our minds naturally seek to get as much information as quickly as possible in unknown scenarios, we derive a sense of security from knowledge. Because of this, my eyes looked for her’s. Where I’m used to expect the pupils wandering about, I found a frightful sight of whiteness staring back at the nothingness, barely any pupil visible to give her face a human-like appearance.
With a slightly open mouth, her face was the expression of death. A glimpse and my brain shouted in panic: death! A fight or flight response was triggered, only to be put down by a slower but more rational understanding. I was staring at the face of unconsciousness. An unmoving body, without all that the things we consider makes us human is a frightful thing.
While sitting in what looked like an Islamic praying position I realised how pale she was. For all I could tell, she was death right there. Someone who couldn’t control their response and broke their social inhibitions placed two fingers on her neck to check for her pulse. All of our brains gathering information and deciding what to do or if to do anything at all. There was a fainted young woman on the floor, on a packed bus, for no apparent reason.
In the lapse of a few seconds, while all these was happening, the young woman’s brain rebooted, proceeding to send awakening signals to her body and returning whatever consciousness is. Her eyes slowly moved back into position, showing disconcerted blue eyes.
I thought she might panic by seeing herself on the floor, suddenly dwarfed and surrounded by stares, concerned faces and helping hands.
She quickly looked at the nearest face and realised what had happened, she had fainted. Her face was an opened book, the realisation showed in her eyes and I could read it as if it was a story on one of my favourite novels. How our mind comes to such an accurate conclusion in such a short period of time is beyond me.
I saw her mind having a fatal internal error and being forced to reboot.
Shutdown, restart, bring back consciousness, understand what’s going on, enter the social scenario as swiftly and as hidden as possible. Not even drowsy brains want to be the centre of unwanted attention.
She managed to stand up, the most elder of us giving her a seat, followed by asking where she lived and promising to go along with her.
I can’t but be captivated by the beauty of seeing other humans, unknown strangers, be concerned about seeing a fallen brother or sister. An unknown individual to whom we serve no loyalty but the highest of all, being of the same kind.
The dozen people around the young woman looked at her in concern. Half a dozen of them broke their social norms of permanent anonymity to aid the young woman when she was unconscious. No one cared what religion she was or what clothes she wore, our long-standing social conditioning to avoid interaction with strangers broke down at once.
I saw concern and curiosity in their eyes, maybe the same someone could have seen in mine. A few hands held her non-responsive body to make sure she came to no harm during her lack of consciousness. I saw a woman’s hand gently touching her pale face and proceeding to gently push as if the interaction would return normality to her lifeless eyes.
It was almost comical, our monkey brain taking over and yelling “poke her! maybe it helps!”, even though our newer, more rational brain slowly said: “no, that won’t really work”. She poked her, yet nothing happened.
These situations are beautiful in their own way. We’re extremely social animals, up to the point that absolute, prolonged solitude has the potential of driving us insane; forced solitude is one of the worsts types of torture.
Yet we surround ourselves with barriers. We’re strangers in a strange land of anonymous, unknown individuals. They surround us, interact with us in indirect ways, but we do our best to stay away, to maintain boundaries of ignorance between us. Even when we would like to speak with that person next to us, our years of conditioning to “not to talk to strangers” and to “mind our own business” impose a wall that is many times too hard to overcome.
Events such as this, an individual in despair, in sudden need, have the strong effect of cracking our conditioning, of forcing us to break free in aid of one of our tribe’s members. We show concern for others and our minds race, thinking on ways to help, to cooperate. The shock, however, gears down fast.
The young woman sat down on the free chair as slowly as everyone’s eyes stopped staring at her. The crisis had been averted, there was no person in sudden need and therefore no reason for us to interact with strangers any longer.
We all went back to our anonymity, re-opening the door in our minds that allow us to stay quiet, thinking inside our skulls without external input.
People got back to “minding their own business”, listening to their music, hearing their internal voices.
I had to force myself not to grin, not to show my bliss, my amusement for the whole event. I sit down on a now-available chair, took my phone out of my pocket and started writing this down. I, too, entered my own world.
A few minutes later I saw the still dizzy woman get out of the bus, along with the older lady helping her. They left together.
One, out of dozens of people in the bus, didn’t go back to her anonymity, one of us, the oldest, the wisest and kindest by her actions, was the only one to really aid beyond the excitement of the moment, to prove that we’re all, literally, together on the bus of life.