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The Sea of Japan


October 8, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for a Tube at Kentish Town Station with my brother and nephew. We were standing at the yellow line like good citizens when a man lounging on one of the seats behind us called out to my nephew: ‘Do you mind!’ His voice was loud and sharp. He rudely motioned with his hand for Callum to move.

‘Do you mind! I am trying to read that poster.’ The man pointed to the wall on the other side of the station next to the tracks.

Callum graciously stepped aside. He is a polite young man who doesn’t like to make a fuss.

I examined the shouter. He was about sixty, medium height with a beard and sloppy clothes. Unpleasant and a bit eccentric, perhaps, but he didn’t appear to be homeless or poorly. I walked over to where he was lounging, eager to know who had crowned him King of Kentish Town Station and quite keen to make a fuss.

On seeing me approach, he shook out his Evening Standard and quickly asked: ‘Has North Korea already dropped the hydrogen bomb?’ His question was abrupt, a distraction intended to head me off at the pass.

I hesitated. It was Sunday morning. The man’s newspaper had to be old, from Friday or earlier. I’d detected a note of genuine curiosity in his question.

‘You mean THE hydrogen bomb?’ I asked.

The man nodded, clearly pleased to have avoided a ticking off.

‘Yes, they have,’ I said.

The man frowned. His face flashed confusion or alarm. He examined me for signs of tomfoolery.

‘They’ve dropped three hydrogen bombs now,’ I assured him.

He became agitated. Was this a joke? ‘Three?’ the man asked.

Yep, just three so far, I said. Callum made a sound behind me, a suppressed laugh. My expression remained blank. Old Poker Face Connell.

‘But—’ The man blustered.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said finally. ‘They all landed in the Sea of Japan.’

While we were talking, a train had arrived. As he got up to board the train, I repeated ominously, ‘Sea of Japan’.

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