The sound of the wheels has me mesmerised. Decrescending upbeats as the trains slow da-down da-down to a halt, and doors open following an interminable, inexplicable, insistent though surely unnecessary delay during which everybody waits, and the impatient poke at unilluminated buttons.
A woman with a violent birds’ nest for hair waddles past me wafting a scent of female exuberance right up my nostrils. Reluctant, I inhale. A humming headache from the night before sharpens into a short sting of pain; doors close, the carriage yields to a lethargic tug of tucked-away engines. Impertinent red: this train is altogether too colourful for this time of morning.
I have new hairs on my belly. Whatever for. Hairs on my ears too, and unruly nostrils. My body makes a mockery of me. The train now approaching platform eleven is the 08:16 South Western service to Guildford, calling at. From neighbouring platforms their own litanies of suburbia. Commuters a-coming to town to town. My eyes defocus midway round the Clapham Junction sign. I do not want to be here. The sign cares nought; it stands, proclaiming: interchange.
All passengers should change here, ideally, that would be fun. If every train that stopped here all passengers got off from and boarded another train, any other train, bound for a random destination, their daily chug would instantly cheer. Wonder whither will I today? Uckfield? Delightful.
The new hairs are an issue. As are the clusters of cells causing the skin to bump now, in places. My doctor reassures me they’re harmless. Just keep an eye out. But these notwithstanding, and disregarding the hum in the head, which has since pitched down to an almost agreeable rumble, I feel surprisingly gruntled.
Another train, another gorge of goers to work.
I can’t take my eyes off the eyes of a man hanging over a low standing station sign, talking on his mobile. Four tracks and three platforms separate us, and his hanging is most unusual: as if the sign were the stocks and he the miscreant, but nothing there to hold him firm in his trap, safe gravity, our perpetual friend. He looks straight at me but I don’t think he sees me, I think he sees a giraffe or a marmot. Perhaps more likely a kangaroo. I have never been mistaken for any of these but kangaroo likes me most, it being so resoundingly antipodean. (Which, just for clarification, I’m not.)
To my right, in the polite English morning light, a man in his twenties, in shiny grey suit trousers, jacket off, and a shirt as blue and clean as the sky. I feel like standing next to him and, putting my hand on his shoulder, inclining my head toward his collar and breathing in the warmth of his neck where his hair is tapered; folding my arm then around him and laying my hand on his chest just there by the mound of his major pectoral. But I don’t, lest he take umbrage.
The 08:26 South Western service to Shepperton, calling at Earlsfield, Raynes Park, New Malden, Norbiton, Kingston, Hampton Wick, Teddington, Fulwell, Hampton, Kempton Park, Sunbury, Upper Halliford and Shepperton. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. As the laggards alighting dissemble, I ease myself off my own sign post that I’ve been leaning against and, catching blueshirtman in profile, features untroubled by worry or strife—a young man’s face of little care and littler consequence still—I board that train, godforsaken though it may be.
My destination, supposedly, on this journey, is Kingston. Not Kingston, Jamaica, but Kingston, Surrey. Upon-Thames. It is pretty in a Home Counties kind of way that elevates ordinary to a virtue and says it’s all right as long as it’s nice. Kingston is nice. And since Pat Val has branched out there, it’s also in one pocket scrumptious. Not to mention the seven brothers from Afghanistan who set up shop here as purveyors of superfine wraps. But they didn’t last long, more’s the pity. After ten in the evening, in an attempt at making things just ever so slightly more cumbersome than strictly required, the station master shuts the entrance, and you have to go looking for a side door, hidden some twenty yards down the road. There’s a market in the morning, and the flatspoken barista girl at Costa aims to bewilder with an unreasonable array of options for your morning coffee, and fairly succeeds. Nay, Kingston is not unusual.
The fact that I fall asleep on the train can easily be explained. The fact that I wake up on the Bosporus maybe less so. But you breakfast where you rise, and it is not for me at this moment to challenge that principle any more than to question the logic that claims to govern geometry or time, so I follow my instinct down a steep alley not far from the Swedish and French embassies, retracing my steps as best I can to an oasis of friendship I remember, as in a dream, the Limonlu Bahçe, a garden of peace.
2 The Sultaness >
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