Tag Archive: silent witness


With words I try

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With words I try
to describe the shape
of silence
a sonar cry
of what is
into what isn’t
and learn
the shape of
myself.

Talitha Fraser

As I board the tram this morning, jostling for position and validating my ticket I become aware of a man who is obviously upset. His voice loud but incoherent, I can only catch occasional words and phrases; openly weeping he says something about the Japanese and Americans, numbers of people who had died, lamenting “the children… the children…” Some people openly stare, others deliberately looked away, avoiding eye contact.  A child wearing a pink backpack, pink hat and pink scarf burrows her heads into her mother’s side, covering her other ear to block out his voice.  We are all afraid of him; at the very least he makes us uncomfortable.  Why doesn’t he sit quietly and mind his business like everyone else?  There is a hush on the tram and only this elderly mans querulous and confused voice asking “Why?”

I consider engaging him in conversation but a young woman beats me to it… “Hi, I’m here to help you.  Can you lower your voice? Ssh. You’re scaring people.  I am your friend.  What is your name?  Where are you going?”  The man does not know.  The tram has halted and everyone now openly watches the scene unfold.  An older man comes up behind her, backup against the unexpected.  The lights change to red twice, three times, and the elderly man cannot answer the questions.  A police vehicle pulls up at the lights beside us. The older man jumps out and taps on their window, and they pull over.  The woman, his new friend, tells the elderly man some more friends have arrived, they’re going to give him a ride to the city, to come with her.  He is assisted from the tram and led away.

The aberrant element removed, the lights change and our tram moves off, a relieved babbling fills the hush “…must be dementia”,  “I know, my grandfather…” But some are silent witnesses, beginning to end and I wonder whether, like me, they think of how they could or should have responded. Internally, I have a querulous and confused voice that joins in asking “Why?”