As I was leaving the tube station this afternoon, the man in front of me abruptly stopped at the ticket barrier. He was a big, mean looking fella, with closely cropped hair and he towered over me as I nearly walked into the back of him.
"My travelcard hasn't come out," he complained to a female Underground employee who was standing right in front of him, smoking.
"I'm on my break," she replied, "You'll have to ask him. he's got the key."
She indicated vaguely in the direction of the ticket office. The hard-looking man - who I am guessing either is in the army, used to be in the army or at the very least has a collection of magazines about high powered guns - looked a bit pissed off and I had to step back to let him exit the barrier that had blocked his path, so that he could go and ask for help from someone not on their break.
I put in my ticket, and although a ticket popped out of the slot in front of me, the barrier did not open.
"I think there's something wrong with this barrier," I said to the smoking lady, as I retrieved my ticket. There was quite a queue building up on the stairs behind me. There was only one exit barrier on this side of the station.
"I'm on my break," the woman told me, as she sucked in more carcinogenic smoke.
A woman behind me with a heavy bag had already pushed open the little gate that is for people with luggage or prams or problems with their tickets, that is supposed to be manned, but never is in this station. I followed her through, as did all the otehr passengers. No-one checked our tickets. They were on a break.
I walked up the street a few yards and then looked at my ticket that I was still holding. I had bought a £1.10 single, but within a few more steps I realised that I was holding a four zone, one day travelcard. Due to the defective machine I had ended up with the frightening looking man's ticket.
Now I wasn't that far from the station. If I were a decent and honest man I would have returned immediately to give the bloke his property. I didn't even really want to have a travelcard as I was planning to stay in tonight. But for some reason, possibly laziness, possibly suddenly finding myself three pounds up (not that I had anyway of getting the money) I carried on walking.
I realised the implications of this. Behind me, back in the station, the man who wasn't on a break had picked up his keys and come across from his office to open up the barrier. He would probably be tutting, as if the technical glitsch had been the fault of the man mountain in front of him. But when he opened the machine he wouldn't find a travelcard. The first ticket he'd find would be mine, then he'd look down through the others in the pile and find them all to be one way tickets. There wouldn't be a travelcard in there at all. Suddenly the perfectly innocent man who had been in front of me would look like he had been lying all along. Already narked off at having his progress interrupted, he would be angrily declaring that he definitely had had a travelcard. The Underground employee with the keys would be saying, "Well if you had a travelcard why isn't it here?" The smoking woman would refuse to get involved in the discussion, as she still had a quarter fag's worth of break left. The innocent man might even come under suspiscion of fare dodging.
And it would be so easy for me to turn around and return as a hero and explain what had happened and give the man his rightful ticket back. I was only about thirty metres away.
But I kept walking.
I don't know why I did that. I like to think that I do the right thing most of the time, but I was up on the deal, if I did choose to go out later my travel would be free (I didn't as it happens). I also possibly secretly liked the fact that I had inadvertently left mayhem behind me. It was only pure chance that I had looked at my ticket, and if I hadn't nothing behind me would have changed. In a sense this was the perfect crime, I felt a bit like Thomas Crowne, except that I had got away with a one day travelcard (four zone mind, I could go to Balham), whilst he stole priceless works of art, but then at least I'm not fictional. So take that Crown-o.
I did feel really guilty immediately, but I also thought I would be embarrassed to go back and have to explain what had happened. I feel even worse now. How could I have allowed an innocent man to go down for a crime that he didn't commit?
Hopefully they will have worked out what must have happened, hopefully after a bit of argument the man was issued with a replacement ticket. But maybe not. Even at best my refusal to go back and help will have wasted several minutes of his life. Minutes that I saved and did not put to any good use.
I have behaved selfishly and anti-socially and I deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law.
I just hope that bloke doesn't read Warming Up and find out what I've done. There's a pretty good chance he's got a gun.