On the way back from a trip to Glasgow, and it was one of those slow journeys that seem to take for ever. And the whole world looks the same through the window, and you don't interact with anywhere.
There was an elderly woman in the seats across the aisle from me, with a million bags. Drew her a few times, then two young guys got on, students on their way back to university after the Christmas holiday, and they had to sit either side of the central table because of the heaps of the woman's bags. And they then proceeded to play a kind of cutesy foot game under the table and it slowly became obvious to me and the woman that they were more than just college friends, were, in fact, a couple. More than that, were a new couple, with the crease of the sheets still on them, sharing a packaged sandwich and that ungainly exploration of who they now were, together. The negotiation of limbs.
I started to sketch them and it felt oddly invasive, and the first drawing was fricking awful so I stopped.
At the next station the woman rose to leave, and the students leapt up and helped her off with her stuff, keen to get the seats to themselves. The train moves on and they settle down next to each other, quietly holding hands, reading a book, and looking out the window.
A few stops further and this guy gets on, sits opposite them, ( clear in my eyeline ) and becomes the next subject for me. He was overtly pleasant, smiling to us all, you could feel the conversations he wanted to have, unplucked strings. He realised very quickly I was sketching him, didn't seem to mind, grinned his permission.
And I got to watch as he slowly unpuzzled the students' relationship. Saw him pick up each detail ( as the woman and I had done earlier ) come to conclusions, watch for other clues, and then finally, when it was clear, that odd mix of confirmation and surprise, like he was happy that his world view had met the moment and encompassed it.
And not a word spoken. ( But, I suspect, torrents when he got back home. )
To watch someone else 'people watching' has to be the nadir of distancing yourself. And I'm not sure if I use the word nadir to mean the absolute highest, or the absolute lowest.
It's like free TV.