Overheard on a Train: the Wisdom of Youth

The three young men were sitting diagonally across from us in the train, heading for the city last Saturday morning.

They were typical Aussi teenagers for this part of town: origins mixed, decorated in tattoos, mostly loud, out to have fun and utterly absorbed in themselves . Impossible to avoid their conversation.

Suddenly there was a serious note to the hilarity : “My stepfather hates me. He calls me a Black B..! He reckons I can’t do anything.” The speaker sounded quietly resentful and there was a depth of sadness behind his words. His mother didn’t feature. His mates sympathised and I sensed they’d heard something similar before.

This story seemed to open up a new dimension to their conversation. The same kid began a story about a young woman, a family friend I think, who had been confronted with ‘marital infidelity’, to frame a bizarre situation as delicately as I can. She dealt with the situation by immediately leaping to her death from the bedroom window. “What do you reckon you’d do?” he asked in wonder.

His mates listened calmly, showing none of the horror I was feeling. Then one of the others told the story of someone he knew who had also taken her life, under far less dramatic circumstances.

The responses were interesting. ‘Why didn’t she talk to someone?” said the first speaker, leaning forward with concern. The other joined in with “Yeah, you can always find someone to help you” and “M’mm, she should have talked to someone”.

These kids could be in someone’s class, or perhaps in a workplace – it’s difficult to assess age. Whatever, it was sobering to glimpse the burdens they were carrying and to understand what they valued.

They value mates and someone to talk to when life gets tough. So there was more than a touch of bravado to their appearance and behaviour.

It didn’t take much to lift them back into the moment. Another train surged past, the driver’s door unusually open, and they were at the window howling with laughter and shooting pictures with a mad idea to report the driver.


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