I got to the bottom of the stairs as the train doors were closing. 'Damn!' I meandered my way to the end of the platform to wait for the next Epping-bound train. The tide of people ebbed and flowed as trains came and went, their head lights beacons in the dark, their tail lights fading points of red consumed by the blackness of the tunnel.
Trains sound different when they are full; they sound heavier. They creak and ponder towards the platform, rather than glide to a stately halt. As trains approach, you prepare yourself for a crushed and miserable journey, standing in London's subterranean furnace. Today, though, there was one available seat, in the corner, at the very front of the carriage. The entire area was permeated by the cloying synthetic sweet aroma of Red Bull. Combined with the oppressive heat, it was less than pleasant, but a seat is a seat. I sat down.
Holborn to Bethnal Green
Somewhere, buzzing amongst my neurons, there is a story unfolding. There are words waiting to form themselves on paper. There are characters wanting to be brought to life.
'It's time to go.'
Are you sure?
She looked at him in the reflection of the mirror. He blinked. So this was it. This was letting go. He'd come so close, so many times, but this time, it was final.
Standing in the garden, her tears mingling with the cloudburst, she finally felt clean. The pain was being washed away, the disgrace, the despair. It was over. It was time to start again.
Between the imagination and the pencil, though, there was an interference on the wires, an incessant crackle. It was almost as if there were too many stories, too many ideas, too many thoughts. I couldn't pick one apart from another. I couldn't hold onto one, let it flow, let it flourish. It was a fight, so I closed my notebook and returned it to my handbag.
As the train drew to a halt, I looked out of the window opposite me. For the first time ever I noticed two decorative relief tiles. One showed an image of St Paul's, another showed five birds. There must be others, out of my line of vision. How many can I find?
Bethnal Green to Mile End
I tried to read some of my book. I managed three sentences. My concentration span was worse than that of a three year old after a glass of Ribena. I put away my book.
The album I was listening to finished. I had to find something else. Spinning the wheel on my iPod I wondered if the CDs I ordered had arrived yet. Crowded House? No. Dixie Chicks? No. Duffy? No. Embrace? Maybe. Foo Fighters? No. Back to Embrace, then. I hoped that my new albums would arrive soon.
Mile End to Stratford
Into the light. It might be called the Underground, but the majority of the network is above ground. As the train propels itself from darkness into light there is a feeling of relief. It is almost as if the entire train has been holding its breath until this moment. There is a collective exhalation. Today, we exited into blazing sunlight. I needed my sunglasses.
I realised that I was peering over the shoulder of the woman sitting next to me, trying to capture snippets of articles in her newspaper before she turned the page. I can't think why. It was the Evening Standard, no better than the Daily Mail. Then she started to do the crossword. Six down was 'stunned'. Of course, I didn't tell her. That would be breaking the Tube Users Code of Conduct. Rule one: maintain radio silence at all times. I looked away, before I embarrassed myself any further. My feet need a pedicure.
Leyton to Buckhurst Hill
The train grows steadily emptier, as it progresses down the line. Cooler. Calmer. The gentleman opposite me had been dozing for the entire journey. His head would loll forwards and then bounce up abruptly as his chin hit his chest. He wasn't snoring, though. I've never heard anyone snoring on the tube.
The gentleman opposite me woke with a start, snatched together his belongings, and jumped off the train. That was it. Gone.
Debden to Theydon Bois
We've known that this year will be a late harvest. The spring was too wet and there has not been enough sun to ripen the wheat. It's brought home to me in painful technicolour as I noticed the ears of wheat are a pale imitation of the deep, rich, golden colour they should be. There were two people and three dogs making their way across the field. The traffic was flowing on the M11.
Theydon Bois to Epping
I could feel a gentle vibration in my thigh. It wasn't the reverberation of the train over the tracks, but my phone. Ma was calling me, to ask me when I'd be home. Just about an hour.
Without breaking too many speed limits, it's a 45 minute drive home. My mind had been racing to be somewhere else all day. I hoped that my car could keep up with it.