Early sunshine is split by the looming tower blocks, twin shafts of light gracing dusty lines of cars and bouncing off the auburn hair of the lady hurrying ahead of me. A man jogs past, white trainers easily visible under his navy suit. I look at my watch and smile at his eagerness; the die-hard commuters travelling towards their Mecca know when to walk and when to run. We do it as one, we cross the busy road as one, and we all file into the train station mute and accepting.
I stride ahead to my staked spot on the platform. My territory is bordered by the see-through bin and the post with the CCTV screens. I share my grey concrete land with a group of ladies who interchange English words with a more musical language, and try to decipher the patterns the words make in my mind. Their laughing chatter sounds friendly. A man flicks my arm with his free newspaper, another generously shares his tinny sounding bass emitting from white earphones that snake down his suit jacket. On the opposite platform a small boy stands alone, away from the shouting school-shirted crowd further down the platform. His uniform is freshly ironed, the cuffs of his blazer are too long, and his shoes are too smart-shiny. He has no friends, and as yet remains too small and new for the pack to notice him. I feel for him, this brand new boy, the solitude he must embrace as a friend.
The train pulls up with an indignant whine. We shift and group around the doors and then squeeze singularly past the two large people who always firmly plant themselves at the entrance. There is no point in seeking a seat; indifferent gazes already in place in each carriage. Instead we all crowd near the doors in our bid to be first off the train when it pulls into a station with an underground connection. Timing is everything. We stand as a human block and listen to half a conversation on a mobile. Did he? Did she? Would he though? Is it? My gaze flickers on various things – the mole on the man’s neck in front of me, the strange hair-piece that woman is wearing, the painted toe-nails peeking out from flip-flops, the square of dirty sun through the windows.
There is an expectant murmur as the train pulls into the important station, the station with the underground. My carriage is perfectly positioned in front of the steps leading down, away from the chill blue sky. Years of commuting gives a secret knowledge that rides over what we once thought important – the best conker tree, the best alleys for short-cuts to school, and the best newsagent for Slush Puppies. Now it is all about where to stand for the doors to open in front of us; the short-cut corridors through the tube stations, how to rush ahead for the empty tube train so you get a seat.
The doors open and we pour forward, suits and scarves, bags and briefcases, earphones and newspapers and books and take-out coffees. We blend into one giant person on the threshold, all hands and arms and legs, and then separate back into ourselves, clattering down the steps. The daylight grows weaker and then disappears, replaced by fake light that takes no prisoners.
When I next see the sky again the blue is replaced by grey.