Flash fiction, published in Issue 6 of The Fable Online:
Announcement. Delays on the Northern line. Someone under a train.
Depression is an inconvenience for everyone.
I did a half-run up the escalator, shuffling my feet against the ridged steps. The surface was farther than I first thought, but how could I stop running? What if people behind me – the ones I’d never see again – what if they judged me for slowing down? My thighs burned slightly, but I was used to that.
I got to the top, assumed I’d impressed everyone with my ability to use a staircase. I was not out of breath. I put my contactless bank card on the yellow Oyster symbol. It denied me; I scanned again. Success.
I hung around.
How many people would pass through the barriers in the next fifteen minutes? I headed near the door but didn’t go out; it was cold. It was meant to be spring, had been quite warm recently, but the temperature just drops when it wants, not giving a damn about anyone else.
I parked myself, red rucksack against a wall, shielding me from the wind and any potential pickpockets. Except, no one was there to steal. The desire was just not in the air.
Outside on a florist’s stall, sunflowers. A woman with a cast from her thumb all up her arm Oystered her way through the barriers, but took her sweet time, waddling through sideways. My nose wrinkled as I pleaded with the barriers not to close on the broken bones. Another woman walked through, holding flowers. The injured one made it. Lots more humans arrived from the escalator, each one, a shoe on each foot. How many bits, pieces, possessions have we all got in common? How many shoes are there in the world?
I silently gave out love to each person as I watched them greet friends, kiss lovers, embrace family, or face the cold alone.
The florist would make a killing today: Mother’s Day.
Mothering Sunday, as my own would correct.
Lots of people on phones next to me. No one seemed to be able to be alone anymore. Not for one second. Either a hand on a phone, or a hand in another.
Another wave of humans passed.
So many beautiful people today. Every day, I supposed, though couldn’t be sure. There was a goth with a hat composed of netting wrapped around something extremely tall. His lips painted black, his shoes gigantic. I could barely see his eyes under the hat. I wanted to.
An old-ish guy looked like he had a blue rinse. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was just a slightly odd shade of grey. I wanted to see someone with blue hair. Bright blue hair. An I’ve-fallen-into-a-nuclear-reactor look.
A black man kissed a white woman on the cheek. I could not imagine a time when this would have been unacceptable. I couldn’t believe we still lived in a world where – in some places – it still was unacceptable. He embraced her with the most careful and loving touch of her back, caressing her there for a time.
More flowers in hands = more happy mothers. There was a full-on snog in front of me – tongues and everything, which I could see but not hear. A breeze passed to the right of me, skimming my ear, but not doing too much damage, temperature-wise.
When the female snogger turned to go, she almost knocked someone over. I lip-read an apology. Change spilled onto the floor from a machine to my left. Everyone looked at the culprit, who sighed, before bending over to pick up each, individual coin. I was surprised anyone still used real coinage. I thought about helping but I was not very close, would potentially have had to run over, which might’ve seemed like I was attempting to steal.
Someone walked past with a small dog on a lead. A couple with another dog – this time in the man’s arms, and a cake in the woman’s hand – appeared to my right. She put the cake down on the floor, in its Tupperware box. Tapped pockets. The union workers behind the barriers knew every route; could get you anywhere in London without books, maps or guides. The couple spoke to them, and I toyed with the idea of running over to steal the unguarded Victoria Sandwich.
I realised how much I enjoyed watching people. I must’ve seen thousands, none of whom I’d ever see again, or I would forget by the next time. I flirted with the idea of taking a day off from work – to just stand and watch people on their commutes. Perhaps Bank: three stops further south from here, on the black-coloured line of that famous, underground map.
Then: yes. Would you believe it? Below the average height of all the bobbing heads: a girl with bright, blue hair. It was a startling, beautiful blue. Her lips – a vibrant red – matched her orange shoes. She wore black framed glasses that were big and cute. Her blue fringe covered her eyebrows, her brown, fleur-de-lis scarf covered her chin, leaving just a slice of her pretty face on view to the world. Other people stared. She no doubt turned heads, making a scene wherever she went, stunning everyone with her presence.
I couldn’t help but grin. She raised her eyes, looked right at me. She smiled, passed through the barriers, got closer. Approaching, my pupils – I’m sure – dilating, taking in as much of her as I could. Teeth on show between her lips now.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Were you bored waiting?”