This is a short story I wrote and this is the story behind one of the illustrations in my zine Emma.
Many people hate London Underground, especially during the hectic rush hours in the morning. It is crowded with commuters, who desperately need the second dose of black coffee. There is unspoken tension in the stuffy air between people on the tube to claim the last half inch of their precious personal space and that tension almost irritates your skin. The air itself is far from fresh. The hot air mixed with all sorts of perfumes and body odour is almost suffocating. And when your train gets delayed, your entire plan of the day will go out of the window.
However, Emma doesn’t mind her commute on tube that much. It is partly because her commute requires only 10 minutes on one of the most reliable lines, and her boss allows her to start at 8:30 so she can beat the peak of the rush hours by 5 minutes. But the favourite part of her commute is the current.
When a train stops and pours out commuters, it creates currents of human beings: ones to another platforms and one to exits. All Emma needs to do is to find the right current to her exit and ride it along. Of course, manoeuvring yourself in the busy underground labyrinth requires skills. Each current has unique speed and rhythm. You have to get them right instantly as you join in. For Emma, it is somewhere between power walking and marching. At a junction, you have to read the signs on the walls in a millisecond as you walk, and select a right path without disturbing the current. Crisscrosses are the trickiest, but stopping and returning are not the favourable option. You are allowed to swim against the tide if you wish, but you will have the consequences.
But this is no problem for Emma. She has been riding this same current for the last five years, and it has become her second nature. She even finds a graceful corps de ballet-like quality in this human flow. When she is not looking at her feet or posters on the walls from the corner of her eye, she sees a river of bobbing faceless heads ahead of her. She can see only back of their heads as everyone is looking forward. It is sort of subliminal. Emma likes the anonymity and simplicity of the current. Its solo purpose is to get to the exit. She likes the way that she does not need to think about anything else. Sometime she wishes this ride never ends.
At the same time, however, she occasionally feels an overwhelming desire to stop in the middle of the forceful flow and hang onto someone and stay still like an island in the stream.
In the next post, I will share the story behind the illustrations Bait and The Sea.