My eyes set beneath dark sunglasses flit their way around the few remaining passengers in the carriage, the search for something interesting to hold my attention. Eyelashes begin to wilt under the weight of the nights excesses. Mustn’t fall asleep. Don’t want to miss my stop.The train slows and the announcement of the new station judders me from my daze. Bodies come and bodies go, and when they clear something very ordinary catches my eye. Something so ordinary that it does not so much as catch my eye, but rather smears grotesquely across it, taking time to register it’s significance. A bag. A rucksack. About 3 feet in length. Red. The kind that gets carried half way around the world picking up dirt and lice from trips to exotic locations and murky backwaters. But this bag is clean, new, unused. Where are the badges lovingly stitched as trophies of past expeditions? The airport luggage tags posthumously dangling a hastily written name and address. No rips, tears, dirt, cigarette burns, felt tip pen stains; just a life of sterile existence. I don’t need this.I cross my arms and allow my eyelids to dip, I’ll just rest for a minute, things will be fine, it will go. But the wheels keep on turning as the carriage bumps along, and ignoring the rhythm I ease open my eyes and watch the bag stare back at me. It looks uncomfortable in the entrance of the carriage, slumped lazily in the corner without friend or companion. Who is your master? In the first adjacent seat sits a man reading a broadsheet. He is dressed exquisitely in expensive looking brown leather shoes and tailored grey suit. It doesn’t belong to him. ‘BANG’. I picture it in my mind. What would it really look like; would I have time to process thoughts before the blast engulfed me? Perhaps just colours, pain, and then..nothing. Red. Glass. Black. The next seat is empty; wasn’t there somebody sitting there earlier? Is it wrong to be judgemental at a time like this? Is this how the terrorist act functions, a concession to behave in such a way that would normally be frowned upon in a moralistic society? A young white boy, struggling with his teenage skin looks neither old nor brave enough to commit such a deed. What about the skin head holding a can of Polish beer dozing in the corner; bad trainers and muddy track suit bottoms are hardly a crime. The middle aged Black woman seated next to me innocently transfixed by her copy of OK magazine; unlikely. The carriage does not contain anyone befitting the stereotype of a potential enemy of the state. I feel disgusted. But that doesn’t stop the imagery of a bearded middle eastern man twitching nervously, a bead of sweat running out from beneath his turban. That is what I am thinking. No time for sentiment and open-mindedness.Need to think, to remember. I close my eyes and picture the carriage’s occupants prior to the last stop. Who was sitting in that empty seat? Careful, close your eyes for too long you’ll fall asleep; and then what? Nothing, just eternal blackness. You’ll never come back. What responsibility, what an opportunity lies with me now, I alone could determine the fate of all these people in the carriage, perhaps more; how much damage could a bomb of this size do? You’ve been waiting all your life to be a hero, here it is, your opportunity..but I am unprepared, not ready for this. Can’t we put it off till next week; after I have slept? The fear begins to stretch over me sending a tingling sensation pulsing along my veins. Until I reached an age where I began to rationalise my life, I had a deep seated fear of flying on planes. My parents stopped me from watching Nightmare on Elm Street, but were happy to sit me through a horrifically graphic drama on the Lockerbie bombings. Holidays to Spain were a trip through hell. My mum would temper my anxiety by pointing out all the people on the plane who did not deserve to die. The elderly – too vulnerable dear. Young children – their whole lives ahead of them sweetie. New born babies – it would just be unfair darling. Doctors. Devotees of religion. Famous people. Scientists; my Mum had them all covered. Here in the tube carriage I look for compassion and mercy, forcing these passengers into my Mum’s categories. What unfortunate company to keep. And me, sorry, our lucks out.I’m Agitated now. I can’t believe these people. Haven’t any of you seen this bag? Do you not think it suspicious that there is no owner in sight? Doesn’t the loneliness spell trouble to you? Don’t you read the papers? Watch the news? Stare..at all..THE FUCKING SIGNS AROUND YOU?! The hiss of the carriage doors breaks my thoughts as we screech into the next station. There is a pause. I could get out here. Somebody does. The teenager to the left of me springs from his seat seeming to have had a change of heart over which stop to get off at. And for a second, in one single motion, he looks at the bag and drops his head scurrying from the carriage as the doors close behind him. Why didn’t I leave. Coward. Who? Him? Or me?This is not how it would happen in a film. This is not how it would look. Where are the hundreds of passengers to be blown into casualties, the lights, camera, action. The handsome hero and his damsel in distress. What is the point of killing just us, on this bit of track near the end of the line? But I still should have left. I can see the explosives pulsing, stretching the seams of the bag before ripping the heart out of it and disintegrating into thousands of pieces, or maybe millions; billions of shredded nothingness. I left a fire cracker underneath a clay plant pot when I was 5, 6, 7 years old, a puff of smoke drizzled from the hole in the base, the result was disappointing; this would not be. Sweat is seeping into my thin jacket as the layer of perspiration on my brow slowly glides towards my temples. I want to shout out to everyone “BOMB!, BOMB!, THE BAGS A BOMB!!”. But I can’t. The bag isn’t a bomb, it’s just a bag. The bomb is in your head, don’t you see that? The plain bag is reality. But what if it isn’t? What if this time it’s for real. Why this bag, how did he choose that bag? Imagine the journey from his nondescript room, set within a chain of terraces blended into the millions of other bricks laid over the country. He arrives at the store and fingers the display of bags, differing styles to suit all needs; even his.
“The red one please sir” his stony face hiding the nervous excitement within, red, blood, fire and burning. When are we stopping, when will it end, will it ever end? When will you leave me alone, leave my head, is that the real time-bomb, waiting silently to go off? How long has it been waiting…he admires the bag first before carefully packing it with his home-made explosive device.
‘Tick tock, tick tock’.I must look a state; palms slick and clammy holding the arms of my chair. There, don’t you see it, wires protruding from the top. My eyes search out the other passengers trying to gather support. No one will even look my way. They want no part in this guilty knowledge, hanging from me like a murder weapon awaiting disposal. It’s coming I can feel it, the rush is building up. Where’s the stop, I need you, it’s gonna blow any second now. Now. Now. Now. I leap forward up onto my feet.
“Don’t any of you fucking people see?” Dripping palms laid out in front of me “It’s a bag. It’s a bag by itself don’t you understand!!”. The remaining three people turn to me, their faces appear disturbed by my sudden intrusive outburst.
“Where’s the owner? I’ll tell you! He’s gone, he’s run a fucking mile, already back at home, his eyes glued to the TV waiting for the news of the death and destruction caused by his own disgusting hands!”
“Hey mate calm down, what’s up?” The grey suited man’s energetic voice surprises me, a shock of relief that someone is finally willing to communicate, wants to make a stand with me.
“I’m sorry” I say, my mouth trembling with sadness. The passenger’s confused faces await my explanation. Six eyes become twelve, a warm fuzz rushes around my head and I suddenly lose the connection with my legs. I can feel myself go, stumbling backwards catching the redness as I fall.
“Hey be careful!” Shouts the grey suit, “mind your bag mate..” I land ungamely on the floor, my dark glasses jumping to the end of my nose.
“Are you OK? Here..” He offers a hand which I tamely clasp, my vision returning in stuttering blocks of light.
“On your feet there mate, take a seat now”
“This is my bag?” I enquire more loudly this time.
“Sit down sonny” a concerned voice whispers in my ear as I resist their gentle touch.
“You better sit down..” No not me, it can’t be me.
“Don’t touch me!!
“Arrghhhh!!”I can already feel the train slow as I grab the man’s unsuspecting face and squeeze my fingertips into his skin.
“This is not my fucking bag!!”My voice is engulfed by the muffled sounds of the carriage. The train rolls into the station as a pair of grey covered arms come forward to push me away, but I beat him to it; my punch landing on the side of his neck eeking out a guttural squelch. Some figures are pulling at me as the door opens; freedom. I lurch out into the cool air; go, take it, you’ve earned your escape. I stumble at first before galloping into a heady run. Everything pumping, arms, legs, cheeks; the veins on my forehead. I’m racing, racing through the unmanned gates and up the hill. I dare not stop for a second. Panting and gasping my every last breath. Exhaustion consumes me as I reach the top; the cold air burns my lungs, my hands resting on my knees, waiting. Waiting.