Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Sound of the Underground


I’m sitting on the Northern Line Northbound platform at Euston Station waiting nine minutes for the next Edgware train. I’m a little annoyed that it’s such a long wait, but I have my David Sedaris book to while away the time so I’m content.

A little old lady with a wheelie basket steps onto the platform. She looks at the bench I’m sitting on, sees my bag on the seat next to me and gives me a withering, old lady stare. I take the hint and put my shoulder bag onto my lap. The little old lady doesn’t sit down, however, she merely tuts and walks right up to but not an inch past the yellow line at the edge of the platform. She’s waiting for the High Barnet train. One minute. She opens her wheelie basket and takes out a foil wrapped chocolate biscuit, unwraps it and starts happily munching away, but as she does this, a Tesco carrier bag, which I can see has in it several Tupperware containers and the wrappers of more chocolate biscuits, falls out of her basket and rolls onto the platform, next to her feet.

‘Excuse me -’ I start, but she turns around with a look that would kill a child with a weak constitution.

‘You - you dropped something,’ I stammer.

The old lady tuts me again and turns to look as the High Barnet train approaches. It slows, then stops, and with a familiar ‘bing’ the doors slide open. There are plenty of empty seats. The little old lady looks triumphant and approaches the doors.

Her wheelie basket drags the carrier bag containing her Tupperware containers, the remnants of her lunch, towards the edge of the platform. She heaves the basket onto the train. I see her give a withering, child-killing stare to a young goth couple as she sits down and unwraps another chocolate biscuit.

The hard plastic containers are now caught between the edge of the platform and the train. I don’t know whether or not I should retrieve it. If the train starts up, I could get hurt! I feel terrible.

Not guilty that the little old lady’s lost a bunch of Tupperware, but more like, ‘now the stuff’s going to be pulled under the train onto the track and the train’s going to explode and kill us all.

The doors close. A vision fills my head. The train stalls over the Tupperware and biscuit wrappers. Sparks fly. Suddenly, there’s a huge bang as the train splits apart, metal, glass and copies of the London Lite careering through the air. People are screaming and cleaving to each other, nuns finger rosaries and whisper Hail Marys, and the little old lady just looks self-satisfied and smug at getting a seat before she’s engulfed in a fiery inferno. A huge explosion follows and I am showered with the lady’s foil wrappers, Rich Tea Biscuit crumbs and bits of boiled egg and cabbage before the train door flies off the carriage and smushes my handsome young face into a paste against the wall.

The doors close. A West Indian accented driver announces: ‘this train tahminates at High Bahnet… Please mind the closing doors… mind the closing doors.’ The train pulls away. The little old lady’s lunch bag is pulled under the train by the force, but nothing happens. The train leaves the station. The old lady pulls out a repulsive looking true crime novel about a paedophile murderer and reads happily.

I’ve been saved by some cosmic mystery. I lean back in my seat and open my David Sedaris book, glad someone in this world is more neurotic than me. Edgware: 7 minutes.

The bottom drops out of my stomach. The bag’s on the track now. I know it is. It must be. It’s there, there, right on top of the electrified rail. I stop breathing. I don’t dare to look. This will be the death of me. The next train won’t be so lucky. It will crash into the bag, spark and go kaboom, and I will be smashed by a train door in a freak explosion because some old lady didn’t pick up her bag.

Fuck.

More people step out onto the platform, looking expectantly at the LED notice-board. Edgware: 5 minutes. I could leave, of course, but I do want to get home. Edgware: 4 minutes. I await my fate.

A female voice announces over the tannoy : ‘There is cah-rently a good sah-vice on all London Underground lines.’ Did such words ever resemble such a death knell?

Edgware: 2 minutes… Tick tock. Tick tock.

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