Thursday, 4 September 2008
Collins woke up in a strange part of town, with a strange man by his side and a peculiar banging in his head.
He left the room and the apartment with a mumble and a vague apology, scratching his head and stumbling still into his pants and shoes.
The street below was quiet. It opened up to the right onto a larger boulevarde, but at midday the road was dusty with little traffic. A Tabac was open on the corner and Collins thought about buying a Coke or an ice-cream or something, but instead he shuffled across into the middle of the main street. An old tram line cut through it, but who knew where the line went and how often a tram came by.
He stood for a minute or so, inspecting both sides of the long street for signs of a taxi. Giving up as the sun burst from behind a cloud, he headed on to the shaded side of the street.
Two policemen sat in a marked car, just watching the odd vehicle go by. They peered at Collins and he stroked at his unkempt hair, uncomfortably.
An old man sat smiling from his toothless mouth on a rickety stool in an open doorway. Collins asked him where the nearest underground station was. Through much spit and saliva, Collins eventually understood the old man’s answer.
He took the next right and ploughed on over another street, another tramway and found the welcoming darkness of the underground.
Inside, this cavernous station had six platforms for three different lines. Yet not a soul was in there. Collins was thankful for the cool escape from the cruel sun, but the icy reception of the station made his head hurt once more and he felt a shiver threatening.
The barriers were open to him, not a guard was in sight, nor a cleaner and certainly not a passenger. The escalators stood in reverential silence as if they hadn’t been touched in years. This entire cathedral to transport seemed like it had been preserved by some unknown beings after humankind was wiped out.
He hurried down the stairs to the first platform. He didn’t know or care much if it was the right one, but he scanned a sign for the line and saw the name of a place he knew. This would do.
Then he stood in silence, and awe, praying that a train would come.
After a few dread minutes had passed he heard the familiar squeal and crunch of metal wheels moving against metal track. His heart and lungs worked again and soon the doors of a train would open for him and he’d be greeted by the sights and smells of other people, once more.
The chirrup of conversation was like birdsong to him then.