Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Journey Home

"Can you move down please?"
Crammed in like sheep on their final journey. The heat dripping.
The fat man pushed his way into the doorway, huge sweat patches staining his light blue shirt, hair stuck to his forehead, droplets running down his obese face and falling like raindrops from his chin. We moved as far in as possible, bodies squashed against each other, the shared heat and stench of a days work in airless offices burning in my nostrils. I felt sick. The fat mans arm reached towards the handrail, his big hand outstretched and his shoulder dangerously close to my face. I try and turn away, try to find some small tiny pocket of space, wanting to look at the floor, or towards the darkness of the window, but there is no room.

The chirp of the doors sounded and they closed, catching suit jackets and bags. People are still trying to board, holding the doors open while they pull themselves inside, rucksacks and briefcases become implments to make space, to nudge with increasing force against those who tried to take more than they deserved. The frustration was boiling over, in everyone. Do they never realise? Can't they see that it will take longer and longer?
"Come on", shouted someone from deep inside the carriage. I couldn't even see where the shout came from, obscured from sight by the mass of commuters, tourists and families.
Finally the doors slammed shut, and we shuddered forward, fits and starts, slowly gaining pace and disappearing into the blackness of the tunnels. Only four stops. Four stops in this heat, unbearable. I should have walked, but the streets in the early evening are almost as torrid as the tunnels, thousands of people milling around, walking too slowly, stopping for no reason, bumping, bashing. To hot, never enough shade, no air. There is never enough air in London.

We arrive at Chancery Lane. No one ever gets off at Chancery Lane. As we pull in I can see the people waiting on the platform, two or three deep. All with the same faces as us inside. Anger. There is no room. The train stops and the fat man wobbles forward, his sweat covered arm inches from my face. I push backwards, desperate to avoid the touch, to increase the meagre distance. The doors slide open and for a moment everyone gasps for a breath of the air from outside the carriage. Just a little bit cooler, just a slight breeze, just some more space. I wish some people would get off, that there wouldn't be people waiting to get on. I wish I had walked. I wish that dirty fat cunt would get the fuck out of my face. Seething. The sheep look around, to see who would get off, where a small niche of space might appear. Would someone with a seat get off, how about by the doorway, or the window, the only places where a little bit of polluted tunnel air can creep in. The best places in the carriage. But no one gets off at Chancery Lane.
"Move right down inside the cars" the announcer belts into his radio.
Move right down? He must say it for every tube that passes, so many times a day, so many times a week, a year. How many times will he have said those words, the words almost as famous as "Mind the gap". But when can you move down? There is no space. We all silently beg for the tube to get going. Get fucking moving. Please.

The doors close first time and the whine of the motors builds as we gather speed, rushing past all the unfortunate, or fortunate lifers standing on the platform, toes across the yellow line, trying to casually read papers, pushing for the spots where the doors open. The ones who know. The darkness consumes again and the rattle and screech of ancient steel as we bumble onwards, rails throwing sparks that reflect in the windows which are as black mirrors. Only three more stops. Six more minutes. St Pauls is another waste of time, same as Chancery Lane, no one gets off. Every one is waiting for Bank, there is always movement at Bank, getting off, getting on, the possibility of a better spot, a better handrail, one that perhaps does not feel as greasy with the sweat and grime of hundreds of tunnel travellers.

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