Last Monday I had cause to be working in Glasgow, in a theatre just south of the Clyde. At the end of the day, I planned to take a train back to the city centre. I arrived at the station ten minutes after someone had committed suicide, jumping onto the tracks. The police and ambulance had arrived moments before me, and had not yet been able to remove the body. He lay there, lifeless and nameless like a mannequin. All last week I searched all the news media for an account of what happened, but there was nothing.
With no chance of a train, the tube was a better option, and I was soon in the city centre once more. Just outside Queen Street station, I met a man with a red face and no teeth selling the Big Issue magazine. The magazine was giving away some free post-cards, so I bought his last copy. I had intended to send a postcard to some friends I had stayed with over the weekend, but they turned out to be a promotional pack for Amnesty International, who are running a campaign of awareness of domestic violence. Did you know that on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she seeks help from outside authorities, and that every day two women are killed by a current or former partner?
Not for the first time, a doctor friend was telling me today about the evidence of domestic abuse she sees in hospital. She told me stories of young women who conceal pregancies from violent partners or disapproving parents. Others manage to live for months without even realising they are pregnant. They arrive in the hospital with pains, and despite not menstruating and the appearance of a huge, baby shaped lump in their abdomen, they insist that they cannot be pregnant. They only have to wait a month before unwelcome contractions prove them wrong.
Surely the biological facts of the matter are so obvious as to be unmistakeable? Apparently not, said my friend. For social or religious reasons, some live in denial, scared to admit even to themselves a fact that would bring shame upon them. Others have a more clinical mind-block, a psycological refusal to see the truth in a manner similar to anorexia.
I think these are relevant digressions, because they are all examples of someone so far removed from our own daily lives, that they could be living in another country. And yet we all live in the same country. Men so sad they will jump in front of a train; men without teeth or a roof over their heads; women suffering and dying in silence, unnoticed; and girls so illiterate they do not understand what will happen if they have unprotected sex. I am reminded of a passage in Fergal Keane’s book A Stranger’s Eye (2000), where talks of the ‘submerged’, people, those whose lives are so far removed from the rest of the country, that they seem to no longer undersatnd us, nor we them:
For a few weeks in a Leeds courtroom, the story of her life and death illuminated a parellel universe in which young men, women and children lived not so much on the wrong side of the tracks, but far below the surface of the nation. Submerged. The majority did not end up killing or engaging in senseless violence, nor could they in any sense be said to inhabit the same moral universe as those who murdered Anglea Pearce.
But they did live in a submerged world. It was there all around us, in every city in the country, a world of unexplained departures and missed connections, a great, quiet tradgedy that went stalking down the generations. When it spilled onto our front pages – a child dead from neglect or cruelty, a frightening drug statistic – we took notice, we were shocked. But the waves always closed over and the underwater silence resumed.