People Watching

I like to watch people. I give their faces stories and think about where they’re coming from or going to. I wonder what they do for a living, and why they’re wearing what they’re wearing. What goes on inside their minds?

I like to sit in cafes with big windows and laugh privately to myself at the imaginary stories I’ve given people. I enjoy sitting with a milkshake and making it last long enough to see several sets of people come and go in the meantime. There is nothing quite like it.

One of the greatest places to watch people is train stations ( I imagine airports have a similar effect but I’ve never had the chance to watch people at one). I’ve seen people look happier than the sun as they are reunited, or more sorrowful than the waning moon as someone boards the train away from them.

The look on someone’s face when the person they’ve been waiting for, the person they love and want and need steps off the train is a look which is worth more than anything. They get the kind of crinkly grin that can change a person’s entire demeanour, the kind of smile that spreads from the corners of their mouth, up the curves and angles of their face and cheeks and into their eyes. The furrows around their eyes are unmistakably ones of joy and passion.

More often or not there will be an embrace of some kind. The most common example involves a man and a woman. The man will wrap his arms around the woman, as if to gather her to himself. She will fling her arms around his neck and bury her face in his shoulder. Not a moment’s thought will be given to the luggage, should there be any.

Just as often, you’ll see the opposite to this, the separation of two people who want very much to remain geographically together. They will often hold one another as though letting go will bring about the parting that much quicker. You can often see a man with his hands on the neck and face of a woman, looking into her eyes. A kiss on the forehead is commonplace. When the train pulls into the station, a tight hug and a quick kiss can often be seen. Hands outstretched, fingers entwined until someone is aboard the train, just for that second’s extra contact.

The train doors close and the remaining person will usually wait for it to pull out of the station before leaving. Often they will look for the seat chosen by their leaving partner and wave as they are whisked away. Slumped shoulders and a slow, dejected walk are often seen as they leave the train station alone, heart heavy with the knowledge that the person they love is being taken swiftly away by a great metallic chariot.

It is incredibly voyeuristic to watch these interactions, to see people say goodbye, or hello. This is a private moment and yet must be conducted in plain view of many others. A person’s world is totally cantered on the leaving or arrival of one other person, and yet the world around them continues to move and people can see them as they cannot see anything but the person before them.

There are very few other places you can see such extreme emotions. Hospitals, maybe, but they are relatively inaccessible. For day to day people watching, nothing beats the range you can see at a train station.

I think that watching people is an important past time for someone who reads, and even more so for someone who writes anything involving people. For the reader, being able to apply real life faces and reactions to what the author is attempting to portray deepens the experience of the book. For the writer, being able to aptly characterise the emotions is much easier if they are ones you are familiar with seeing regularly.

It could be that, or it could just be the fact that I am nosy and often bored, that compels me to watch people, but whatever it is, I wonder how many other people are infected by the bug, and I wonder how many times I have been observed by someone watching the world go by.