APPROXIMATELY ninety people funnel up the narrow wrought iron steps above the train tracks at around 8pm each evening. I don’t know why I say ninety, as I only really see the backs of four or five heads as I shuffle irritatingly on their heels, treading step by step.
Fidgety yet vacant, we all jostle like sheep, shepherding each other, up onto the bridge and in the direction of home. It’s slow – sometimes agonisingly, othertimes not. Today, the air was warm and my piped-in music was up loud. I was excited to come home and write.
There’s a mechanistic quality to the daily commute: every step of the journey honed with each repetition. This morning, I shot a glance down the platform at a series of suited city soldiers. Standing, regimented, at each carriage door, their fingers hovered over buttons, poised to press at the earliest possible second.
Sat down, I mimicked the long-distance stare again today, honoured the tacit vow of silence, the careful compartmentalisation of limbs – contained, as if boxed in glass.
There are the regulars. Holey jumper man was the first I noticed, about a week in, as he fumbled his head and arms simultaneously through a well-worn burgundy pullover: all wiry limbs and tufted bald head racing each other, flailing, towards a gulp of fresh air. Then there’s the corpse: dead to the world as the train leaves the station. Jaw dropped, head back, cheeks hollowed out like my grandma that last time I saw her.
Details from home reveal themselves, jutting out from the corporate grey. Trainers, scuffed from kick-abouts, rebel against trouser legs. Zippy jumpers, scarves and gadgets spill over from Christmas stockings.
Plugged in and tuned out, we all bob in unison to the rhythm and sway of the tracks. There are newspapers, crosswords, headphones, laptops. A hundred little ways to fill the space inside. Maybe the furrowed lady with the list on the back of an envelope is scribbling them all down.
I didn’t know this space existed, crammed in to a steel carriage with rucksacks and overcoats.
I quite like it.