Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tube Warfare

Category: Issue 1, Short Story Winners

0755 King’s Cross tube station. The Victoria Line.

I waited patiently in the stuffy air. The computer dragged at me in its bag, forcing me to stand lopsidedly to counter the weight. If I’d timed it right the tube wouldn’t be too full at this time of the morning. The rattle and hum of the train leaving the northbound platform was dulled by a babbling mass of newcomers and, to my dismay, another horde spewed from the entrance.  I moved down the platform to make room and to establish a springboard, pole-position for the next train. I had four stops to reach Green Park and I was sweating already. I also had a headache.

With deadpan face I scanned the approaching interlopers. Mentally I urinated on the wall and platform marking my territory. Legs akimbo I stood, the Alpha Male as commuter, staking my rightful place at the front; a bull observing his territory and the cows mingling around him. Rastafari, Asian girls and merchant bankers jostled and kicked their feet in anticipation like skittish horses at the tape. A warm breeze billowed down the platform from the mouth of the tunnel. The oncoming train pushed the breeze more urgently as it neared us until, the noise and rushing air drowned out everything else.

The doors opened and spilled their contents in front of me. We allowed only a small gap for them to exit. A funnel for them to squeeze through with no thought of consideration. Bodies closed around me and backed up to the wall.
‘Mind the Gap’ the Stationmaster had said.
I was all too aware that this was important. There’s always some sneaky bastard who tries to slide up the side of the train and use a gap to jump the queue. I moved quickly to block that way in and went ‘large’ in the doorway to keep the rest at bay. This manoeuvre cost me dear and had the effect of putting me at best fourth or fifth in line in a group four deep As I stepped onto the metal plate at the entrance I was blocked by a business suit. His bag was wedged against mine. I could have paused to let him in front but …..why should I? I was there first. He could have paused to let me go first but, being a wanker, he didn’t.  We struggled noiselessly and without looking at each other.  The pressure from behind finally launched us both into the interior where we were brought up short against a wall of bodies already suffering.

As I reached for the hand rail above my head, I had the satisfaction of catching him a glancing blow with the bag. We stood, side to side pressed together. My peripheral vision judged the pin stripe sleeve sheathing his arm as his hand gripped the rail next to mine. Our elbows were touching. As the train lurched into motion I managed to exert undue pressure onto his arm. Just enough to make him think. But not enough to be too obvious. Subtlety is the key on the tube.

A millisecond later as I read the advert to one side, I felt a nudge. His elbow was sharp. I glanced toward him but he was pulling the old changing his grip move. Could have been an accident. In a court of law I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, but I knew. As the train accelerated I shifted my stance and managed a jab, concealed within a lurch. That must’ve hurt, I thought.

If anything, the pressure grew at Euston as more people got on. We shuffled and sighed and locked elbows again. I decided to lean on him a bit. As the train flew along the rattling, black path, I gently but firmly leaned back. He moved his hand down the rail a bit. Ha! A pain shot up my leg as his heel connected with my ankle, forcing me to readjust. He reclaimed his space as I fumed silently.  I wanted a better look at his face but I knew that if we looked into each other’s eyes, the façade of neutrality would be destroyed. There would be a blood bath.

Warren Street gave me the upper hand. A bit more space was created and I managed to get a knee in the side of his leg.  Imperceptibly I pushed. His leg stiffened and he countered by a classy toe step. Grudgingly I was impressed. He was an old hand at this. For the rest of the journey we pushed, prodded, jostled and bumped. As we slowed to stop at Oxford Circus he took his hand from the rail. I took advantage of this opportunity. Stumbling as we drew to a screeching halt, I managed to knock him off balance and it sent him into a large black lady. She gave him a filthy look, which was priceless. Looks like I won matey boy.

However, as he reached the platform he stopped and turned. Waiting until the door had closed, he looked straight back at me. His middle finger stood in the air and he mouthed what I think was a very rude word. I glared back at his laughing face as we pulled out. Impotent with rage I considered changing at Green Park and going back to find him, but calm reason took over.

After all, I’ve got to come to London again tomorrow. I reckon I’ll get the same train.

Posted by aardvark on 11/05 at 03:08 PM | Permalink
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