The death of a 19-year-old student following an argument with a ticket inspector on an Athens trolley bus on Tuesday night has triggered a debate that exposes as much as it conceals. The loss of a human life, and even more so the loss of a child and under such circumstances, is enough to make your blood freeze, particularly if you have children of your own.
My first thoughts when I read the news went to the mother and father who lost their child for 1 euro and 40 cents. I tried to imagine their horror and pain, and I froze. I felt fortunate and guilty at the same time because my kids are alive and healthy, next to me.
I thought that even under the most extreme poverty, life remains the ultimate good, a life with dignity. Dignity was the first thing the 19-year-old was deprived of.
I also tried to imagine what the turn of events would have been if the inspector had a child, a teenage son, an introvert or rebellious one, wandering around the city without any pocket money. What would he tell his son if he caught him smoking on the balcony or hopping on the bus for a couple of stops without a ticket? How would he scold him for such an offense? Would he perhaps slap him across the face or threaten him?
The inspector must have witnessed many weird reactions while on duty: various aspects of human weakness, of shame, of cunning, of people stripped of their dignity.
If he had children, he would probably have told the 19-year-old: “Calm down. It’s not the end of the world. Let’s go and sort this out. At worst you’ll be issued a 40-euro fine.” I am trying to put myself in the inspector’s shoes.
The unfortunate incident was followed by an unfortunate comment by a famous author. The 19-year-old man, she said, was a “freeloader.” It is no defense to claim that her words were misunderstood. Authors know what they write, or they are not authors. So this life of 19 years was first stripped of dignity, before it got lost in obloquy and dispute. I can only think of his parents now.