Excuse me Sir, you got the time?
He looks up – perturbed, zealous – from his phone;
Iridescent screen beams, like petrol in sun,
conceal the true colour of his iris.
Synthetic rainbow blends, whiter than bone;
Just sclera and pupil – which I become.
He teaches me. Listen! Adhere to this:
The time is now, she is, he is, we are
late, suited, workers, we’re the trains, the cars,
Self-impelled, scared, as Phobos orbits Mars.
Just exist now – stupid question to ask.
Yes Sir, right you are sir, I’ll move as you
do cos I have to, I’ll do as you do,
we do, she does, he does, (but what is the time?)
The time is you’re late, it’s 5:59.
Oh shit, that’s right, that’s me, sorry, thankyou, bye-bye, I’m late, always late, A to B machine, Oxford Circus to the Elephant, changeover, quick snap, black line to Morden, but first the Bakerloo:
I sit down in the second carriage from the back. I hadn’t noticed the rows of people standing steely behind me as I waited to cross the gap. For the first time in a while I notice other people.
I can feel the elbow of the woman next to me. I feel lucky to grab a seat as every space in the tin-can tube is filled, as commuters clatter on, colliding like atoms in compressed gas. A jolt and we’re off.
The rails thunder, dum dum, dum dum, like a pacemaker beneath us, getting quicker and quicker, dumdum dumdum.
From someone’s mouth, a piece of keratin shrapnel projects somewhere, gnarled and chewed. My hand brushes gum, gloopy like unset glue.
Veins throbbing loud and blue. Dogshit on a shoe, sneezes which spew snot, hot like lava, achoo, achoo, ew, ew, fucking disgusting, dumdumdumdum, try and screw shut my eyes,
the seat is like goo into which I am subsumed, “the next station is Charing Cross”, my skin is textured by the tube’s metallic grooves, the greasy poles bending like pipes bubbling with excreta, glass smeared by fingers clambering, scrabbling, everywhere, everywhere, arachnid fingers attached to arms, “the next station is Waterloo”, dumdumdumdum, dense fleshy limbs knotted like neglected wires into which I am tangled, heat heat, heat produced by lumps of meat rubbing together, dumdumdumdum, lubricated by sweat, muggy pate, humid sardines, heat heat, the brakes scream, scream, scream, crushed into the seat, my motherboard is overloading, scream, exploding, blood and electricity, can’t see, can’t hear for the heat, heat, scream, scream, need to breathe, need to breathe, “the next station is Lambeth North”
Force myself up
Jolt, mind the gap
Force myself out
That didn’t go according to plan
Where am I now? Lambeth North. Not to-ing nor fro-ing; just a-ing or b-ing.
Breathe, close your eyes
Body and mind wriggles to be free as a tear escapes its duct
What’s the time? Display board is broken and there’s no one here to ask, small, commuterless underground station, forgotten by London’s skyline soaring higher and higher with ambition
Brown Bakerloo line paint
Dull, variegated bricks and tiling, yellows and creams ageing since Victoria’s reign
Dim orange lightbulbs create soft shadows – ghosts move like Golden-age Hollywood stars with each flicker
Breathe, close your eyes
The tear wanders down my cheek lawlessly, like the words of a happy madman, enraptured by nonsense
Upon the black of my eyelids, the ghosts morph, stories from indefinite yesteryears are painted, all at once, united only by the past tense, using the same pallet as the station:
Old, drunk cockneys cackle saucily at a dirty joke whilst waiting for the last tube; a young girl waves at a rat running parallel with the tracks; two teenage puppy-lovers are oblivious to passers-by, their tongues tangoing to the arrhythmic soundscapes of a daydream; a teary mother, rereading a letter from her son who moved away, mouths to herself the closing words – “love you Mum, see you soon”.
My own Mum is painted in the same sepia tones. She’s handing me the necklace I always wear, for my 18th birthday. My Dad hugs me in a moment of suburban despair and he shakes my hand when I’m feeling better. My first girlfriend tells me she loves me and I believe her. Staving off tears, I give a speech at my Grandad’s funeral. I put the world to rights during a sleepless 3am with my best mate whilst we eat a Tesco sandwich.
Open my eyes
Was that a blink? Was that a second? It felt like a lifetime
It felt like the past hugged me, comforted me, laughed with me, cried with me
Exactly as a good friend would
My airways opened up so I could breathe, breathe
Like a machine never needs to
Like a man who is blessed with life