It happened again.
As she walked up the street, she suddenly felt as if she was an outsider, stepping back and watching all the people scurrying along, all in a little world of their own. She could almost hear their thoughts, except she was fairly sure that most of them were on automatic pilot and weren’t really thinking about where they were going or what they were doing at all.
She imagined the head of each passer‑by covered in a blanket of routine, smothering any individuality that once lurked inside and filling their heads with thoughts like “get home as soon as possible” or “hurry to catch that first train”. They had probably become automatons and weren’t even aware of what they were doing any more.
Had she really been like that once? Was she once “one of the crowd”, always hurrying to get somewhere as quickly as possible, totally oblivious of the world around her. She had a mental flashback to when she was still a teenager, fresh to the big city and loving every waking moment. The packed out trains and dirty streets were all so much of a novelty, she hadn’t really given it a second thought. How life changes you. A sudden smile appeared on her face and invited a dirty look from a smartly dressed woman (with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp) passing by. How sad when something as simple as an inward smile conjures up images of mental instability to people, she thought.
She switched off her observations, switched on her commuter mentality, took a deep breath and once more headed into the throng of people milling around the tube station to commence her journey home.