• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 10
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Five Minutes on the Central Line

I'm always amused when someone offers me their seat. On a good day, it’s easy to forget that I'm old. Why would I do that, I said to my doctor when he asked, Don't you ever look in the mirror?

I decline the offer of the seat - the passengers on either side aren't wearing masks. I'll stand, my centre of balance defines me as local rather than a tourist.

I once saw a tourist fall into a pram when the train came into a station - baby crying; its mother screaming; the tourist bending and bowing in apology.

I think that's the flattest stomach I've ever seen. A woman in a cropped top, clutching a cello has boarded, didn't wait for those disembarking. Just pushed forward with a rattle of wood and a low drone of strings. She anchors the cello to her side, clutches it tight the way young lovers press into each other and share hormones. I don't think my stomach was ever that flat.

A toddler just threw a ham sandwich at my feet. Its mother questions why he didn't like it, and then offers him chocolate. I can't help staring at that child, who suddenly realises that he's being watched. He sticks his tongue out. The mother smiles at me. I look away as the train slows into Marble Arch.

The woman and her cello navigate the crowd and leave us as a man with an oil-leaking lawnmower boards, followed by a man in a thick coat and a large backpack slung over his shoulder. The trains accelerates out of the station, the lawnmower shifts and the wheels roll into the man with the backpack. He puts his foot against one wheel, and holds the lawnmower in position as he swings his backpack to the floor.


Five Minutes on the Central Line

The child who threw the sandwich is screaming for more chocolate. Everyone pretends that they've not noticed.

At Bond Street a family of four get on, expecting to find a seat. The man has a green Michelin Guide in hand, and the woman's holding a Tube map. Both kids are sunburnt. The man in the thick coat steps away from his backpack, steps over the lawnmower, and rushes off the train.

We're all staring at the backpack on the floor. The man with the lawnmower, doesn't think twice - he abandons the mower and dashes through the open door. A man presses his umbrella against the carriage door so it won't close - most of us follow him. The family of four seat themselves and stare at us through the window as the carriage doors close. The train accelerates toward Oxford Circus.