Her lungs fill up as she physically expands across the yellow line, her presence widening, pushing the tiny bits of uninhabited air to bend inside the corners of the tunnel, the downwards curl inside her mouth. Sir, mind the gap, Sir step away from the doors. The man with the black buckle brief case is hovering, loitering, earphones plugged he’s wired in, oblivious to her existence, her burn on the side of his face, shrieking across the tannoy.
I hang just inside the doors, trying to catch any of the tiny air particles left inside that inch between our heads and the roof. Mind the motherfucking gap you motherfucking prick. Shoulders rub against one another, a single commuter breath and a bag smashed against my face, watering my eyes. At the final second he jumps, doors closing on his fabric threads, on the seams of his skin. No one cares, except a couple of indignant glares and I’m sure everyone can hear me breathing. The carriage finally pulls away.
“I couldn’t do that job,” Dee mutters in my ear. Her breath is cold, I push the fabric backpack away from my head.
“God no way,” chimes in Annie, poking my ribs with her nails, “don’t you just feel like so many people are way more capable than we are?” She’s got this habit, Annie, of prodding my insides, thrusting and digging, playing the rib cage like a xylophone. If not she’s tickling, a low-level prickle that’s always there, irritating and crawling, threatening to flare at any moment.
Dee nods once, rolls her eyes, “well obviously”, and directs mine about to all the examples I can’t avoid, to all the adults, the real people, the humans operating in their normal everyday lives, mammals functioning as they were made to.
“Like if someone asked us,” Annie chatters on, “to name our favourite film in every genre we wouldn’t be able to think of any films in any genres. How stupid is that? And you know that everyone is going to be asking now, how are you going to vote? And you can’t just say who you are voting for because they want to know why.”
Black buckle brief case is over his indiscretion on the platform, taking in the daily news, earphones still in, on his way to the office, flicking the Metro pages calmly with his wedding ring finger.
I can’t read the paper because every time I don’t understand something or can’t read a word Annie flicks me harder and it hurts. It takes all my energy to tense against it.
“It’s not even like this is much to cope with,” Dee rolls her eyes again, her favourite move, “This is just real life, just getting the tube to work.”
“We’re so fucking privileged,” Annie adds, nodding incessantly, “we really, really are.”
The train pulls up to a station, more commuters swimming outside, a sea ebbing over the yellow mark, clawing against the windows as if we’re in the Titanic. There is no more room on board. I have to look away. My eyes catch a man’s on the other side, creases by the edges, stubble pretty with freckles across his nose.
“Forget it,” Debbie’s saying before I’ve even begun, “don’t even entertain it.”
The door opens and there’s a shuffle, scuffle as people move and elbows go out and in that movement Debbie is standing between us, I can’t see his face anymore, I can’t see anything so I drop my head right down.
“I wonder what he does?” Annie observes, “A real job probably. I bet he knows his favourite films in every genre.”
I concentrate on breathing. Something so natural and yet sometimes it doesn’t work. Short. Sharp. Breathes. Heart beats loud and feels very close to the surface. A physical pain. I need a painkiller to stop it.
“I bet he could do that job,” Annie babbles, she won’t let up, she flicks me against the rib cage, my inside ripple, I feel a bit sick. “But we definitely couldn’t. There’s just no way.”