This is the first in a series of vignettes inspired by travelers of the London Underground.
He seeks a reprieve while seated on a park bench, yet cannot escape the briefcase at his feet. Business calls wherever he lands. The day is long, but feels much too short. Bright rays of the sun cannot warm or distract, nor can a crisp breeze awaken or detract. A tired, yet sharp mind pushes forth and leaves the heart behind. He dons a black suit and polished shoes; perfect attire for a boardroom or a funeral.
Three ravens fly overhead, but their wild caws fall upon deaf ears. He stays focused on pie charts, spreadsheets, and an endless array of numbers. Concern sharpens the ridge above his nose, for no matter how long he stares, there is too much red and not enough black. Fountains spray sparkling drops of water, but he does not think to look. He slams the portfolio shut and stuffs it into his briefcase. There’s no relief for bloodshot eyes.
In a rush of movement, he makes his way to Lancaster Gate station and descends far below, where he takes the seat of one who has just departed. Fluorescent lights rob the color out of his cheeks.
Three stops later he disappears into the void.
– – –
They catch the train just before it departs. He pushes the stroller and she holds the hand of a little girl wearing pink wellies. Dad carries a bag filled with a picnic blanket, umbrella, and games. A family day is the plan regardless of the rain.
The younger child sits still, strapped tightly in her stroller. She nibbles on a piece of celery in one hand and a slice of apple in the other. Mom reaches over to fix a few stray hairs and wipes the drool from the young one’s chin. Older sister can’t sit still, her rambunctious little body hangs from hand rails and bounces from one seat to the next. Mom laughs for a moment, but soon has had enough. She asks her little girl to sit still, but has no authority. The girl in pink wellies giggles and skips around; her mother is wrapped right around her finger.
Dad holds Mom’s hand, but his eyes wander across the aisle towards another.
At Hyde Park they depart, whole for now.
– – –
She pages through a pocket calendar hoping to find an extra day. A fine tip pen adds more things to do on a long list and scribbles new appointments in already full squares. Heavy make-up darkens a stiff face that has yet to smile today. Long black hair is wound into a simple bun and not one strand has broken free. She’s buttoned her trench coat from collar to hem and knotted a belt around her tiny waist. Page after page, she searches over and over again. There is no blank space or empty memo.
As the train rocks, she closes her eyes. There are a million more things to do and here she is trapped in a slow-moving tube where all she can do is wait. And wait. And wait. She checks her watch and turns away disgusted. The sun is surely down and she hasn’t eaten since dawn. No one waits for her at home, she’s not getting any younger, and nothing seems to change. She grips the pen in her hand and scribbles in the corner of tomorrow’s agenda.
There are still nine stops to go. What is it all for?