Daniel kept feeling the need to check his ticket. Was it still there? He was compelled to keep tapping his shirt pocket. It felt like it was still there. But what if it was an old ticket or just a thick piece of cardboard?
Sh*t, here we go again. The same goddam ritual over and over again. He plucked the ticket from his pocket gently and stared at it. He was very careful not to bend it. Nothing had changed. It was still a train ticket to the city with the same date. It was valid. Now, what is the bloody problem? Just stop this. Just goddam bloody well f*cking stop this sh*t. Why do you keep carrying on like this? Why can’t you control yourself? What’s the worst that can happen?
That was where it got tricky. Everybody knew what would happen. It was well publicised because THEY wanted people to know the consequences. It was all about putting a stop to fare evasion, which had cost THEM billions.
Daniel briskly dismissed that thought from his mind. It wasn’t worth thinking about. He had his ticket and that was that. No need to always think about “what ifs”. That was just a characteristic of anxiety. Keep your mind in the present. If you have to say “what if”, it means that you’re anxious. That’s what Daniel had been told.
Anyway, it was so uncomfortable. People surrounded him. He could never get a seat. The air cooling system wasn’t working again. If only he had a dollar for every person that had fainted standing in a train during the summer time. This was the pits.
Why did he always have sweaty men with their armpits in his face? And people reading the paper with the corners in his face. If he could afford a parking space he’d take it. Anything was better than this.
People were getting nervous. He could tell. Others were starting to look at their tickets now as the train slowed towards the next station. People started moving towards the doors. Some people started crossing themselves. Everyone seemed to have some kind of a ritual.
Even though Daniel wasn’t exiting the train at this particular stop, he couldn’t help wondering again whether he had a valid ticket. He started the ritual of patting his front pocket and then reaching inside to take out his ticket, place it in front of him and stare at it. All this required a lot of skill given he was squashed between so many people. He didn’t want to damage the ticket – God no! That would be as disastrous as not having one at all.
His ticket was still there. It was still valid. He was still angry with himself for taking it out of his pocket again. I mean, that is risky. He should have known that every time he took it out of his pocket he risked dropping or damaging it. Why couldn’t he just stop this? It was just anxiety! His doctor had told him this a number of times.
But that goddam quack didn’t have to take public transport did he? He was so impractical in his approach to things. He was young, probably the same age as Daniel, with no greater life experience. That’s why Daniel had eventually dumped him. Of course, Daniel never had the courage to say any of this to his doctor’s face. He just didn’t make any more appointments and didn’t return anymore calls.
It was the coward’s way of dumping, like he had done with his very first girlfriend. He didn’t have the courage to tell her. He just ignored her from then on. It was cruel and that, according to Daniel was the reason why the rest of his life was going to be miserable. You just can’t get away with that sort of behaviour.
The atmosphere in the train was getting feverish. People at the doors seemed to be sweating. Daniel could hear them breathing faster and more loudly. The train finally stopped. There was a slight pause and everyone was silent. The silence was only interrupted by the groan of the opening doors.
Al l eyes were suddenly focused on the green light just above the doorway. A brave soul walked slowly into the sunlight. The light above the doorway remained green. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Then another person walked though, and another. The light at all times remained green. The people remaining in the carriage started to breathe a sigh of relied. The atmosphere was calming until a shrill scream was suddenly heard.
Eyes moved quickly towards the green light. It was still green. What was going on?
Eyes then moved down towards the doorway. A middle aged woman was cowering at the entrance screaming. What was she saying? At first, Daniel couldn’t understand, but his ears soon became attuned to the noise. She was saying “I can’t” over and over again. Can’t what?
People immediately around her began trying to help her. They were asking her what the matter was and if they could help. She ignored them and just kept repeating “I can’t. I can’t”. There was no one who could help her. The whole system was automated. There were no drivers or guards or ticket collectors. It was all designed to avoid human intervention and corruption. The other passengers didn’t know what to do.
Then it became obvious that the woman was blocking the entrance. No one else could exit. People started to panic. After all, their tickets would only take them to this stop. They could not travel any further. They had to get out. The panic brought rudeness. People were shouting at her now. “Get out!” they shouted. “You’re putting us all in danger!”
The atmosphere was tense. Daniel had never witnessed anything like this before. He started to unsettle. He was compelled to look at his ticket again. He started the “patting routine” and then just kept repeating it uncontrollably. The passengers around him were getting annoyed.
The woman was screaming. People around her were screaming at her. An overweight man with severe body odour suddenly grabbed Daniel’s hand and looked him in the eye. “Stop that!” he said forcefully.
Daniel couldn’t stop. He started to resist, but it was to no avail. The man was very strong. Daniel began to sob.
Then the doors began to slowly close. In the panic, people started to rush out, trampling each other in their quest to squeeze through the doors.
The light above the door turned red. The whole system had malfunctioned. It couldn’t cope with so many people trying to exit at the same time.
People who were still in the train watched in horror as the alarm began to sound. A robot voice began to speak. “Ticket evader. Penalty issued.” It bellowed. The penalty was issued to many people that day.
Every person who was perceived to be a ticket evader was disintegrated. It was the law.