The tattooed man was standing on platform three, waiting for the train. The station was full of commuters, coming and going. The tattooed man had shaved his head so that he was completely bald. His face was tattooed all over. His head was tattooed all over, and his ears and neck. The only bit of his face that wasn’t tattooed was the crescent of skin immediately under his eyes.
We didn’t want to look at the tattooed man, but we couldn’t stop ourselves. We looked at him for a second, then we looked away. We hoped that he wouldn’t see us looking. The tattoos were indistinct, a blue-green blur of lines and symbols. It looked like they had been tattooed over other tattoos, so that whatever they were supposed to represent was obscured, a living palimpsest.
We watched as the other people tried not to look, while at the same time, having a look. We were afraid of the tattooed man. We were afraid that if he saw us he would be upset. But he had his entire face, possibly his entire body, tattooed, so surely he wanted us to look at him? We were concerned about his mental state. What was this display if not his hatred of the world and his own self-hate writ large across his body? It felt like a great big ‘fuck off’ to the world.
He stood and waited for his train. He did not look at us but at some invisible zone straight in front of him. He didn’t look around, he didn’t seem to have any curiosity for those surrounding him. It must have taken great discipline, this act of staring at nothing, and it made us think of the holy men of old. The ascetics who denied themselves of basic needs such as food and warmth, in order to achieve an enlightened state. He was denying himself also. He was denying himself of the basic need for human contact. Was that the point? Was he trying to achieve enlightenment? Had he already achieved it?
We wondered if he had any friends. We wondered whether he had a girlfriend or boyfriend. Was their face tattooed? Did he have family? Was he still in touch with his parents? To us he seemed like the most alone person we had ever seen, and it chilled us to think like that. We wanted to approach him. We wanted to ask him, why he had done such a thing, but we thought that if we did, it would hurt his feelings, but maybe he wanted questions. Perhaps he was yearning for some company. Perhaps we could just go up to him and tell him, we weren’t judging him, and if he wanted to talk to us, that was okay, he could do. But we were worried that it might disturb him.
We couldn’t understand him, and we couldn’t get close to him. There was an invisible barrier around him. The train pulled up at the station and the tattooed man got on the train. But long after the train had gone, we were still thinking about the tattooed man. We felt sick inside by what we had seen. We dreamt about him many times. He entered our nightmares. In one dream he was sitting on his bed, there was no one around, he was completely alone, and he was crying. In another dream, we saw his limp body hanging from the rafters, a noose around his neck.
But the dream that really got to us was this:
We are fast asleep. We are not dreaming. We wake up and it is morning. We get out of bed and go to the bathroom. We look in the bathroom mirror and it is staring back at us, our own reflection. And now we are the tattooed man.