Down below the bustling city of London on the fourth of July 2016, Bond Street Station is buzzing with activity as people shuffle on and off the trains. Platform 1 is westbound to Ealing Broadway. The ventilation isn’t very good and it’s hot and stuffy while we wait. Sweaty. I press against the wall, wary of the crowds and the chance of being pushed accidentally beyond the yellow line. It’s only our second day in London and we’re still figuring our way around. But the yellow line demands obedience and everyone seems to comply; that yellow line saves lives every day.
The train is as hot and stuffy as the platform. A small-framed woman with brown hair parted just off center passes the time with music, plugged into her iPhone with earbuds. She is so tired. Her head rests against the glass partition as she sits just beside the doors. Her mouth is drawn down and I wonder what her day was like. Did she go to work today? Did she have the day off to take care of some things? Is she a tourist, like me? That last thought is not likely, as we tourists tend to stand out a bit. No, she looks like a Londoner to me.
She stands out from the others in her own way; she wears black tights and a gray pullover hoodie. She doesn’t look like most of the Londoners on this train, going home from a long Monday in suits and ties or maybe not ties but dresses and leggings. The women are in heels or the walking shoes they’ve changed into after work to save their tired feet from more abuse.
The train stops dead in the middle of the dark tunnel for a moment, and it’s still as hot and stuffy as it was when we departed Bond Street Station, and I’m silently begging for a little bit of merciful fresh air as we wait for the track ahead to clear. No one so much as mutters a word. The only sounds come from the fans above the seats that are working so hard to push the hot air around us, and the low rumble of the earth beneath our feet as it bears our heavy burden once we’re moving again.
A business man – or maybe an office employee – sits quietly in his white button-down shirt with pinstripes and the top buttons undone. Just because his time at the office is up doesn’t mean he’s done for the day. He crosses his leg to support his satchel on his black slacks and pores over the papers in his hands with bags under his eyes. The balding of his head matches the wearing of the soles of his shoes. He rests his chin in his right hand and his eyes never once stray from his work.
At North Acton Station, he finally shifts and packs his things securely in his satchel and then departs the train. I don’t know where he goes from here. Home? Does he catch another train? Does he live in the city? Does he commute for work? Is there a family waiting for him at home?
Across from his now vacant seat, a stocky man with clean-cut brown hair rests his elbows on his knees and all I can think about it how hot he must be in that black quilted jacket on this stuffy train. He must be used to it, or it just doesn’t bother him, or he’s not as sensitive to the heat as I am. Maybe it feels good to him. But he doesn’t see me sitting in the back of the train against the window because he’s absorbed in something captivating on his phone. He’s not smiling either, but I’m sure he’s had a long day, too.
In fact, four of the five passengers nearest to me sit looking at their phones, and not a word is spoken between any of us. If I were a Londoner, I might be scrolling through my phone, too. Instead, I’m an American who doesn’t want to pay outrageous international data rates so my phone is basically a camera this week.
Next stop is Ealing Broadway where the westbound line terminates. All this way and we never shared one spoken word. So many stories they all carry around with them; I wish I were brave enough to pry. We all depart here and move in masses toward the stairs, and I will probably never see any of them again.
Thank God for this fresh air.