Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Behind the bars
There were men in uniform at the barrier today.
As the rain began to fall we all huddled under the shelter as the train pulled away. You could see the plump drops falling from the sky from a long way, could follow its route to oblivion. I listened to them splatter on the corrugated roof as I waited my turn to be seen.
As the queue receded, I could see them more clearly: a white woman with bobbed blonde hair and a black man with a light beard stood, padded in blue jackets, the company’s logo on their chests. The jackets made them look bigger than they were, more powerful. After all, who knew what lurked beneath?
Behind those two were two police officers; standard beat bobbies. But behind them were two special officers, wearing vests. They all looked around, uneasy, eyes picking over people in the queue, people on the station. I imagined there was a firearm or two stashed somewhere about these strange figures of civil power. A deadly weapon, hidden but brooding.
There was a murmur of disquiet about the rain soaked stragglers, creeping home through the station barrier, heading for the stairs that would lead them out of this strange Hades and back home to their wives and children. I arrived at the great checkpoint, slightly clammy, I’ll admit. All these people, all of this assembled cabal of authority, seemed to be doing was checking tickets and passes.
As I passed the first checkpoint unscathed a hitherto unseen officer lurched forward toward me pulled, it transpired, by a German Shepherd. The dog sniffed at my pockets and crotch and then moved on to the next man. It was but a brief defilement, but a defilement all the same. I stopped then, in slight bewilderment, looking round as if to check: ‘Is that it? Am I free to go?’
Nobody looked at me. Perhaps they didn’t know. So I trudged on up the stairs as normal and as the breeze hit me I realised the rain had stopped, or at least it had up here at street level.
I wondered how close I’d come to arrest at gunpoint. How good was the smelling power of those dogs? If I’d sat in a seat (and my seat on the train did feel like someone unsavoury might have been sitting in it, this evening) that a recent cocaine-fuelled lunatic or else a pot smoking fiend had recently used, could not a few grains of the white stuff passed on to my clothes? Might not my jacket and trousers have acquired the unfriendly aroma of cannabis? And then, then what would the dog have done to me?
I was suitably bemused by these thoughts all the way home, and when I got to the top of our staircase and pulled closed the baby gate I felt compelled to kneel down before the bars and peer out to sense the queer freedom of the world beyond.
I stayed like that until I heard the baby crying.