Wednesday, 31 July 2013

kcl diaries: sketches from the tube

A man in a suit sat down in the empty seat next to me and unconsciously covered the armrest between our seats with his broad, striped suit jacket. I was displeased. I wanted to rest my elbow on that armrest and here it was suddenly draped in the pompous flap of a businessman’s suit. Not wanting to ask him directly to move it, I spent the next three minutes casually trying to push his jacket off the armrest with my elbow. After a concentrated effort during which I tried to look as oblivious as possible, my elbow finally staked a claim for itself on the arm. Aha! I allowed myself a small triumphant smile. Then we arrived at the next station, and in the two seconds that I removed my elbow to scratch my nose, the pompous suit jacket also removed itself and was replaced by a chubby, dimpled arm belonging to a large woman who comfortably took over possession of the recently conquered territory without so much as a “How d’you do?”


While changing lines at Green Park Station, two boys who didn’t quite reach my shoulder whizzed past us through the station on rollerskates. They looked free and blithe and invincible in a way only little boys who are daring enough to ride the Tube in rollerskates can look, and as they skated ahead, weaving through the crowd of suits and summer dresses, their lively figures made a pleasing contrast to the tall sedate shapes walking briskly around them.
We saw them again when we arrived at the platform for the Piccadilly line, as they skated over to us to ask, “Is this train going to Hyde Park Corner?” Yes it is, we told them, and they contentedly retreated a little way from us to wait near the edge of the platform for the train. They stood there in their rollerskates, looking as if they might at any moment roll over onto the tracks, but they were unconscious of any cause for fear. Finding no room for itself in the boys’ minds, fear chose instead to settle on everyone around the youngsters, and my friends and I watched the rollerskaters anxiously while they chatted in still-unbroken voices with each other. When the train pulled in, they clambered onto it cheerfully, quite unaware of the sea of hands behind them, stretched out in case they needed a steadying push. The doors closed, all the suits and summer dresses and rollerskates safely on board, and the whole carriage sighed a collective sigh of relief.


I changed lines at Green Park from Piccadilly to Jubilee, with three stops to go until Southwark. The train was mostly empty, and I absorbed myself in my phone. When the doors opened at Westminster I was jolted out of my self-imposed isolation and panicked, thinking I’d missed my stop. I ran off the train discomposed, and as I watched the train pull out behind me, I realized I had alighted two stations too early. Why is my response to panic always to run and never to freeze? I spun around in the middle of the station and tried to look cool as I walked sheepishly past everyone else who had got off and back to the platform to wait for the next train. After about five minutes, the train pulled in, and I climbed into a carriage overcrowded with sweaty bodies that made me think longingly of the cool, empty train I had pointlessly left minutes before.


I sat down diagonally across from a young girl and her brother. The girl looked at me and leaned over to her brother to whisper something, and they both stared at me and smirked. I matched their stare and shoved my earphones into my ears, feeling both amused and frustrated with myself for caring enough to glare back at them. They continued to stare and smirk and nod their heads knowingly, and I found myself wondering what could possibly be so entertaining about my person at that moment. In a fit of immaturity I rolled my eyes at them. I immediately felt as though I was about two inches tall, and decided to stop paying attention to the giggles coming from my two o’clock before I could go any lower in my own eyes. I was glad to get off a few stations later, glad to escape the tween-shaped reminders of my own self-consciousness.

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