It begins at the station on a Monday morning. An overly full carriage of white-collar soup has been upturned all over the platform, in the form of a petulant rush-hour crowd too big for its boots. Fresh trains are sent to mop it up by degrees, but they’re not nearly quick enough.
Meanwhile, an inexperienced commuter breaks formation and wakes up the bull. It’s a tense moment. People crush closer to create the illusion of unity. Everyone hears the snorting, but no one will look at the source of it directly. Not even out of the corner of their eye.
The silent threat of the bull is that a cascading panic will result in everyone running screaming from the platform. Terrified accountants will scramble all over the city, blundering over double white lines and crossing against red lights. Misplaced legal secretaries will be discovered squatting amongst bags of rubbish in dark alleys. Search parties will locate confused schoolchildren, cowering in the doorways behind the sex shops and trendy restaurants uptown.
With moments to spare, the train arrives and sponges the platform clean of discontent. The irony of course is that everyone is now travelling towards the danger.
At the next stop, the carriage bursts open and mixed emotions scatter everywhere. People are stamping on bits and pieces of it before the wind can whip it all away. Scraps of good news and bad news hastily rescued from under high heels and dress shoes, before they turn and clatter towards the stairs.
En route, they negotiate a swarm of bibbed volunteers. With rattling tins they will attempt to redirect pocket loads of unused coins into the public health system. One man evades capture by ducking behind a pride of teenage girls; a human shield in gingham. But the dissonant cough of loose change follows him up the stairs, rubbing against his conscience like a broken promise.
The steps themselves are stained a sallow shade of dysphoria. This is the washed-out hue you get when malaise and anxiety are mixed together. If you take another look, you’ll see it’s smeared over everything. The banisters are sticky with the stuff, but everyone’s so accustomed to it, they don’t notice anymore.
In this way the station overflows with life, but takes no part in it. Leaking purpose, it becomes the dead husk of something else every new day. Yet it refuses to panic at the prospect of being abandoned. Perhaps it uses the quiet times to puzzle over crosswords. The ones left half-done in discarded newspapers, wilting in the cracks between seats. It sounds implausible, but you shouldn’t disregard the possibility that during peak hour today, the entire transport system will magically wake up, and start looking for clues.
The answers are mostly inaccessible, zipped up in Gucci handbags and trapped behind the combination of locks square-edged briefcases. But some of them are in plain view. You can probably see them from the places you stand every day. The look of indignation on a sparrow’s face when a passing smoker showers it with ash. The worn floors of exits from places no one wants to be. The palpable unhappiness emanating from the passengers on a train you watch departing, slowly at first, then gathering speed, until it’s lost in the glare of the sun.
inspired by a phrase borrowed from each of my favourite unleashed07 entries, stories by jkane, krystle, pinkelephant, jschoenw,hogan,alice