Down by my tube station there’s a zebra crossing. It’s on a relatively busy road with people constantly scurrying to and from the trains or buses and trying to get to the shops and delis on either side.
I’ve started to study that zebra crossing a little bit. You see, that zebra crossing tells me a lot about life and people and who we are.
There are cars that just don’t stop even if the traffic the other way has.
There are people who don’t even look to see if the cars are stopping before they step onto the road.
And there are the people who don’t even look at the cars as they cross.
Then there are the queues. Traffic can build up at a busy zebra crossing as people trickle over.
It’s the queues that get me. Every time. Sometimes, when I reach the edge of the green I can see that those cars have been waiting ages. You know what I do? I loiter a bit. Pretend to read a sign. Look in a shop window. Give the cars a second to go. If I do hurry across in the wake of a yummy mummy or mobile phone attached estate agent I always mouth a thank you at the cars on either side. Sometimes I get a smile back, and sometimes nothing but a frown, but that tells me as much about the world as the pedestrians do.
Yeah, I know it’s my RIGHT to cross that road. I know I should be able to step out and make them wait as I amble across, texting or emailing, as if they don’t exist. But sometimes, life is all in the give. In fact, life is ALWAYS in the give.
We’re a people obsessed with our rights. It’s my right to say whatever I want. It’s my right to have clean drinking water. It’s my right not to be murdered, raped, beaten or broken. Look at Twitter. We’re an angry first world pushing our rights, our values, onto each other.
But you know what? We have no rights. None. If you think you do, then you’re the sort that steps onto the crossing without looking. We’re animals and the way we work is pack rule. We do what the biggest pack in the vicinity dictates and that becomes the law. Our rights are whimsy; they’re ethereal things. You can’t touch them. They can change. They’re dust in the wind.
I read an article on the Guardian website about people living under constant US drone attacks targeting the Taliban. Those people have no right to a decent night’s sleep. They have no right to go about their business. They have no right to live without fear. One drone hit a bakery, killing the man and his family. He had no right to earn a living. And all because they were born in the wrong part of the world. Stories like that abound everywhere. Women with no right to fuck outside of marriage. Men with no right to speak their opinions out loud. People everywhere living in fear.
If you think you have rights, then think again. You know what we actually have? We have ‘the give’. The space between. We have to rely on our human decency for the rights we accord each other. Sometimes the world is about going without something you think is your right, so that someone else can have some peace.
And I guess that’s why I loiter at the Turnham Green tube station. And I guess that’s why I smile and say thank you to the cars that stop. It’s a nod to their rights and mine.
Because life is all in the give.