Stockholm Syndrome: Rush hour madness

The number 4 bus was packed this week: the Swedish summer is truly over.

So instead of taking my favourite seat – just after the bus’s accordion midriff – which I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks (a small thing, I know, but you can’t put a price on legroom), I made my way to the back of the bus.

As I sat down and the bus pulled away, a young man a few seats in front turned to me and shouted something I didn’t understand.

For a moment I assumed he was addressing someone behind me, so unexpected – and so aggressive – was the outburst. Alas, I was on the back seat and this was my problem.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I said. “Förlåt, jag förstår inte.”

The man shouted the same thing again. He made a brushing gesture against his leg and tugged at his jacket.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I repeated.

The bus was chugging over Västerbron, one of Stockholm’s great bridges. The city to the east looked prim and toy-like, Lake Mälaren to the west was calm. Unlike me.

Anyway, so far the man had been sitting down. Now he stood up and I saw that he was large – gangly but sinewy – and his eyes and neck and fists were pulsating with fury.

After the terrorist attacks in July, Londoners on public transport fear rucksacked bombers. But what Swedes out and about in their towns and cities fear far more than terrorists – and with good reason – are nutters.

(OK, psychologically disturbed individuals, sufferers of mental illness – useful terms but political correctness can be so time-consuming when you’re faced with a six-foot-four-inch streak of anger dressed like a scarecrow and yelling abuse.)

Swedes remember what happened to Anna Lindh, killed in a department store. They remember the little girl who was stabbed to death the following day, apparently in some copycat attack.

And the man who drove down a pedestrian street in Stockholm killing two and wounding sixteen. Another, who ran amok at Åkeshov station, chasing commuters with an iron bar, killing one of them. The list goes on.

The man bellowed at me again, and, not knowing what he was saying, I turned to my fellow passengers. I was not expecting anyone to step in for me but I thought someone might offer a translation.

But they looked away. They stared at newspapers, not reading, just looking. They stared out of the window. They stared straight ahead, apparently fascinated by the head of the person in front. One, a bleached, pock-marked youngster, chatted on his mobile phone.

Of course, they’ve read about the psychiatric institutions turning away patients, they’ve read about the attacks, and they probably felt that to make eye contact would be to get involved and to get involved would be risky.

I had no such luxury of choice so I stood up, ready to – well, I’m not sure what.

As the man stepped towards me he was grabbed from behind by the young guy – patient and carer, it turned out. Perhaps it had been an important phone call.

The bus stopped at Hornstull and they got off. I sank back into my seat, relieved.

I glanced again at the other passengers, hoping for a connection – just an acknowledgement of what had happened.

Nothing. Not a nod, not a smile. Just staring, straight ahead, at the head in front.

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Stockholm Syndrome is a new series of articles from The Local focusing on life in the Swedish capital through a foreigner’s eyes.