There is a sort of stillness on the morning train. Even with people pressing into you. People stand where there is room, and sit in the nooks and crannies they find if there aren’t any seats left.
These trains are rarely on time, and are rarely configured for the load of people going to the same place as I. But still.. there’s a stillness because there’s a distance between the people.
Physical distance is one thing. The noise is another. But there we are, pressed into each other, and sometimes it feels like we sit on top of each other. But eyes are averted. The only words spoken are into phones; not to the neighbour in the seat. The sounds of the train is split off by ipods or phones or something.
Everyone is in their own little bubble that excludes every aspect of the other people pressed into them. And that’s where the stillness is.
There was a time when commuting really annoyed me. But I’ve found this place inside my head where I can go. And when I look at everyone else on the train, it’s clear that they have found that place too. It’s the way they look at you, without seeing you, as if you’re not really there.
I do the same. I stare ahead, at people, through people. Not focused on them, but on things that only I can see. With music pumping in my ears, my eyes look at scenarios in books I want to write. I engage in wish-fulfillment. About Mark. Or about travelling. About things I should have said to people who have annoyed me. Daydreaming. And the focus of that is beyond whatever object or person that’s in the direction I’m looking.
Until yesterday when there was this strange woman on the train. No, she didn’t make a scene. She was as zombified as the rest of us. But her gray hair was wild. Her clothes matted and tatted, and in all the mismatched colours of a kaleidoscope. The coat was a gradient of reds that came from wear and washing. The hat was of a green that was nearly alive. Her orange scarf championed a footie team from up north, and her shoes were black leather.
It’s weird how you can be all alone in a crowd of people. Totally excluded. We all exclude, because not doing so would make the commute unbearable. Until something breaks the exclusion. And then you can see the exclusion, and spend a couple of hours on a boring commute and wonder why we do it.
It’s like trying to think about why a word sounds a particular way. Have you tried that? Really thought about why the word is like that. What caused it. After a little while the word starts to sound ridiculous. Just like this stillness on a commuter train between my town and Waterloo Station starts to seem ridiculous because objectively there’s nothing calm and quiet about the experience. Nothing at all.
It’s all psychological because we all think there’s a need for that exclusion. Most of us who commute are the same people every day. I recognise faces. I even know a couple of names because I’ve snatched them up in their phone conversation or overheard them on the platform talking to people. In some other reality, all of us could have talked on the train. Socialised. Made it an enjoyable social experience.
But we don’t. Because we think that would be ridiculous. So, instead, we engage in this ridiculous exclusion game. Sitting all lonely on a train stuffed full of other people.