The Man in the Middle

There was probably nothing sinister about the three people sitting opposite me. The man was clearly unwell, which would explain why the women were propping him up. Their facemasks were a bit severe but there’s no law against covering the face. And there’s no law to prevent people dressing alike. For all I knew, the ladies could be sisters caring for a sick relative. All the same, I couldn’t help remembering the story about the man in the middle.

My photograph was taken in the Tokyo Metro. The man in the middle story took place in the London Underground and was circulating about thirty years ago. It went something like this:

A young woman boards a train late at night and is seized by a feeling that something is seriously wrong. She glances around and her sense of unease is heightened when she realises there is no way of leaving the carriage for another part of the train.

Three young men sit hunched up on a seat opposite her and one of them is staring at her with wide unblinking eyes. The only other passenger is a middle-aged man. After a while he comes across. The young woman has never seen him before but he talks as if he knows her.

“I’m having trouble with this crossword.”

He shows her a newspaper.

“Perhaps you could help.”

The young woman looks at the paper and sees that he has written on it in big black letters.

The man in the middle is dead. Get out with me at the next station and we’ll call the police.

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