stephen fulljames

Minimum Viable Portfolio

All fiction

#04 - Home Time

12 Oct 2012

The destination indicator has been saying one minute for the last six minutes, and behind me the eastbound platform at Hannover Circus is filling with people. Commuters pouring down the escalators like human sand in a white-tiled egg timer. The lady next to me tuts and says there must be a delay, it's been saying one minute since two minutes past six. I know, I don't tell her, I've been watching it too.

An announcement. Sorry for the delay to your Green Line service this evening, this is due to a sudden loud howl of feedback through the public address system. Edging forward of the yellow line I sneak a look down the tunnel, attempting to materialise a train into existence through force of will alone. I only want to get home to see my wife and kid, it's not too much to ask is it? I beg the god of mass transit's permission to be allowed to get across town in the next seventeen minutes so I can catch my other train, the one that runs to a timetable and waits for no man.

Two more hour long minutes pass. A breeze builds from the darkness of the tunnel, then the fullest train since records began draws into the platform. I always do my best to allow passengers to alight before attempting to board, but there's still an ugly scrum around the nearest set of doors as a hundred people attempt to fit in to a vestibule space designed, optimistically, for twenty. A seat? You must be joking.

A very large man asks if we can move down inside please, and in my head I tell him I'd be glad to if only he could point out a spare square centimetre to move in to. Perhaps his perception of physics is different to mine, perhaps my head actually can occupy the exact same space as that pretty oriental woman's elbow. I grab the overhead rail and stand firm, the doors close with the very large man still on the platform. Then the doors open and close a few more times as other passengers work out their trapped bag and finger issues.

Finally, our game of sardines is away. I've managed to hoard enough space down my left side to be able to pull my phone out of my pocket and check every few seconds how many minutes are left. Eleven, but I'm only going three stops, except just as I think I might make it we grind to a halt between stations. Looking out the window from my vantage point seven millimetres away from the glass, the amount of unidentifiable crud on the tunnel wall and pipes is simply staggering.

The train jerks forward again, the driver announces that the next station is closed due to the fire brigade being in attendance in response to an alarm call. This train will not be stopping at the next station. There are groans of disbelief through the carriage but I'm bouyed by the news. Fewer seconds spent letting people on and off means more seconds left over to help me get home. Still, the train inches through the empty platform at Thorngate because the train never makes things easy for me. It accelerates again back into the dirty tunnel and the kid with offensively loud headphones loses his balance and pushes against me. No harm done, but in my ideal world I'm carrying scissors to cut the thin white cable snaking up the outside of his padded parka.

We stop properly at Cathedral, and in a blessed respite from my tube hell the platform is on the other side here. A thousand more people attempt to board and the commuting amateurs on that side of the carriage are foolish enough to let them. Apparently it is possible after all for my body to be squashed into even less space. I can't see the platform indicator from here, my phone is trapped in my unreachable pocket, so I can only imagine how many minutes I don't have left.

It's a smooth run from there to Gulliver Street, where my mental blueprint of the main line station upstairs contains the outline of the six twenty five pulling out on the start of its journey down to Seabourne. That's my journey. I need to be on that train more than anything. The tube doors scrape open and I pretty much fall out of the carriage from the pressure of people behind me. I always get on at Hannover Circus at the right point on the platform so I'm in the right place now to just dash up the escalators and out.

Of course a society of clueless tourists is holding a suitcase conference at the foot of the up escalator, and I vault the Samsonite chicane prepared to bust anyone who objects in the chops. Sprinting up the left side two steps at a time I hardly dare look up in case anyone didn't get the memo to stand on the right as that would lead me to killing them. A glance at a digital clock at the top tells me its six twenty two and as I fumble my ticket into the automatic gates I feel like I might just make it.

Eighten stairs up from the underground station, a hundred metres across the forecourt, dodging and weaving through the crowds still waiting for their platform to be announced, check the board, platform eight as usual for me, I can see through the barriers the train doors are still open and the ticket comes out again for this set of gates and I sprint now, my shins are starting to hurt and maybe my ankles will snap but I'm on, I'm on the train, I win at commuting and now I can attempt to relax. I only want to get home to see my wife and kid, and every night I wonder why does the city make that simple task so difficult?

Context

A bit of stream of consciousness about the travails of the long-distance commuter.

What is this?

Fiction Friday is an experiment in creative motivation. I want to publish a piece of short writing (usually under 2000 words) every Friday to get some of the ideas that bounce around my head out there and see what happens.

As well as writing new stuff I have a stash of older pieces, so I'll explain where each one came from. While I will try to make each one a complete story it might be that they are only fragments of other things or a spark that might turn into something else.

All of this is Creative Commons Attribute-NonCommercial licensed (but I'm open to negotiation).

Feel free link to these stories on Twitter or anywhere else you like. If you want to talk I'm at @fulljames.

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