Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rush Hour

I’m late. I can tell because the queue on the platform is already backing up onto the stairs. I weave my way through those not yet brave enough to take the plunge and find a narrow gap between the wall and the mass of people waiting for the next train. I hang around at the back until it arrives. It takes its time.

Suddenly, the air whooshes and the train is here. People getting off have to force their way out of the doors and past those pushing to get in. It isn’t pretty. They are out and the first wave are in. There is a guy hanging out of the doorway with an enormous backpack. Slowly, he lifts it above his head and eases his way into the throng. I’m glad I'm not on his train.

The doors close, then open, then close, and a recorded woman tells the packed passengers to let the doors close freely. Eventually, after another dozen repetitions of her imprecations, the train shunts off. I’m in the next wave.

When the train arrives, I’m in the middle of the throng and propelled into one of the upright supports to the side of the door. My bag is somewhere behind me and it’s hard to breathe. I manoeuvre myself around the pole and feel the click of my mobile phone unclipping itself from my belt. Luckily, it’s trapped inside my jumper by the crush of fellow passengers. I breathe in and wiggle my hand round to push it back in place. The doors do their open/close thing a dozen times and then we’re off.

Taking advantage of the bumps and turns of the train, I slowly manage to turn further round the pole in my chest and pull my bag through the passengers behind me until it’s back at my side. It’s a bit more battered than before, but nothing’s fallen off yet. Every time the train comes into a station, there’s a build up of human pressure on my side, as the people by the doors have nothing to hang on to and are kept upright by their companions. We are the pillars of this establishment.

By the time we arrive at the end of the line, the train is emptier and I have found a seat, but because of all the times the train has had to open and close its doors, I’m really late. I sneak a glance at my watch: five past seven. The class started at seven and I still have a fifteen-minute walk ahead of me. What a way to start the week.

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