Saturday, 17 May 2008

Unexpected Intimacy

I needed to catch a specific train. Although the trains run every 5 minutes after said specific train I needed that particular one. If I caught the later one, then I would miss a certain connecting train, and would take an extra 20 minutes to get to my destination. I needed that train.

Now because of the close connecting time, a lot of other people needed that specific train as well. The platform, at some chilly, dew soaked morning hour is always crowded for this train. When it slowly pulls to a stop and the doors slide open heavily, there is a crush, as bodies, all needing to be on *this* train, pile in.

There are almost never seats left by the time that it reaches my station, and worse still, quite often all of the handholds are taken as well. So, as with that morning, I had to stand on a moving train with nothing to hold onto. Surfing the rails, keeping my balance around corners all while not holding a thing. It's fun and I always get lost a bit in my imagination when I'm doing so, imagining actually being somewhere out in the open with no other people around me, openness touching my face. But I must have been imagining just that bit too hard because when we stopped suddenly I wasn't braced properly and I tipped forwards the 10 cm or so into a stranger's arms.

Now this is embarrassing enough, because even squished in like sardines, there is a set etiquette, and even if you're so close that you practically need to be having *the* talk, you're not supposed to actually touch anyone, even if the margin is a hair's breadth. Blushing pink I tried to move back, but as we had stopped, more commuters were pushing in, and I was pushed into this strange man on the train, my chest against his, his hand by my right hip. And I could sense his embarrassment as well, because his hand as we were squished together kept brushing my thigh (unavoidable) but if he moved it then he would only get himself into an even more embarrassing spot, and the lady to my left did not look like the type to be able to laugh about miscommunications on the train.

There were so many bodies on the train now that there was someone squished into my left side, me not daring to move my left hand because of its unfortunate proximity to that particular person's groin. Behind me I had the large shelflike buttocks of a woman carrying a never used for its purpose Fitness First backpack cushioning my back. Then the train began to move again, building momentum until it gradually reached that swaying rhythm. And having nothing to hold onto and being merely a drop in an ocean of people, I swayed with it, the commuter to the front of me pressed against my chest and swaying too.

And it should have been odd, or terribly embarrassing, but it was actually, as I headed towards my exam with a single flower in my hair, strangely comforting. To have my face so close to his throat that I could smell that clean warm smell of human skin. To be able to feel warmth through my chest spread into the chilly parts of me that were so worried about my exam. It was easy to pretend that this enforced intimacy was actually genuine, that the warmth spilling through was specifically for me, to heal the parts of me that were so afraid.

I had no idea what this commuter looked like, still have no idea, but on that chilly morning, I had to hold myself back from melting into him, a warm gooey puddle on the floor. Commuters spend so much time trying to isolate themselves from everyone else, living in their own little bubble, I wonder what would happen if we all made eye contact. I do it sometimes, deliberately catch someone's eye and smile, watch the consternation and embarrassment flit across their faces. And I'm not trying to make them uncomfortable, maybe just searching for the one that will smile back. Or who will hold me up on the train, a strange girl with a flower in her hair.

6 comments:

Donna said...

It makes me wonder what 'he' would have thought of your close encounter. Wouldn't you just love to know?? ;)

Good luck with your exam results Jenn. How many to go now?

hissychick said...

When on the train you only have to be watching the way bodies all sway in unison while faces remain expressionless to realise how silly we humans are. So close, yet so far, far away.

Good luck with your exam Jenn.

Kim said...

I used to be horrified as a school girl when I'd crash ungraciously into a stranger on the train.

As an adult it seemed more like an adaventure - depending on who you fell into of course :)

Good luck with the exams. Do you finish in November this year? Not long to go now

xx k

Shel said...

I cannot do 'personal space invading' at the best of times. Which is why, at just about all costs, I avoid public transport.

Even sitting too close to someone unknown on an airplane is *too* much.

I admire your ability to remain frozen; I'd have tested all boundaries in order to get myself more comfortable - and ended up FAR more embarassed than I'd have started.

Shel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon said...

"a woman carrying a never used for its purpose Fitness First backpack cushioning my back."

I'll have you know I was nowhere near your train on that particular morning. Hmph.

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