Air Dance©

The Underground is a mass of sound and colour, teetering between cosmopolitan sanity and frantic journey-echoes. My foot almost catches in the gap between platform and train, and I’m forced into a quick hop-skip that just about lands me inside the carriage. My hands go out. I’m caught in the heaving crush of human forms, which net and hold me, a gasping fish in this breathless heat.

The doors ring out their closure behind me, and I check to be sure my coat wasn’t a victim. The tails are slack. Relief washes me clear. I congratulate myself on making the earlier train; five minutes shaved from the journey home. In the grand scheme of the commute, it’s always the golden dream to catch and hold those precious extra moments at home.

So many faces. A man stands, white-knuckled hands over his head as though in desperate salute to the sun, gripping the overhead rail. He could be sleep-swaying, in rhythm with the train’s clattering dream. Another pre-dawn commuter like myself, now heading home to his bed, dinner be damned. I wonder if the shining leather boots will make it off his feet.

The woman directly across from me, she’s got a mammoth headache. Or hangover, though the two often go hand in hand. She clutches her temples, massaging the tender drum skins there, and I want to dig in my backpack for the fail-safe of Ibuprofen. I feel myself torn apart by the calamities waiting to happen down here, by the shining eyes, waxing romances, terrified mouths of first-timers. I’m too much an empath. There are too many lives out there, and I should turn a blind eye like the others. That’s how we cope, when faced with humanity’s daft dramas.

None of us will see the sun again for an average of twenty minutes. I wonder how that makes the claustrophobe’s feel.

In the mesh of tight arms and bouncing hair, I spy a torso that appears to dance in its own energy coil. These movements are controlled, set to a beat quite apart from the pounding wheels beneath us, like a branch of leaves disturbed by some external wind.

It’s a man, young and wick-slip built, all long lines. His hair’s a laughing knot in tamed society, ears full of white plastic that trails down to his hip, where sits an iPod. I wonder at the sensibility of carrying such a commodity in so obvious a place, then notice thin scratches lining its exterior, a network of use. A worthy friend on his travels, but not treated the gentler, as a man of the North wears out his huskies, and feeds them well for it.

This young man is bopping and bobbing to whatever fills his ears. It’s a familiar song, since his lips move with ease to frame the lyrics, eyes closed in an ecstasy of knowing. He’s oblivious to the immediate world of sardine-humans, their sweaty armpits and tired feet, rustling papers and the averted eyes they hide. Those around him now form a thin layer of air, he dances in a test-tube of his own oxygen. I want to shake him by the hand, for displacing them, their expectation of solitude.

Some other movement catches my eye, at the far end of the carriage. A girl, dark hair flowing in shining ribbons down her shoulders, moves in time with the young man. She faces him, eyes alight and alert with her grin. His own are still closed, but a connection starts thrumming through the air – maybe he feels her feet, tapping out his heart’s rhythm.

His eyes open, startling blue snapshots. They find her face. The whites appear, pronounced and friendly. Her Cleopatra lashes curve wider, chin tilting back. She waits for his cue –

His mouth opens, maybe the next verse – my heart jumps between their mouths. It’s not often you pay first-sight to something as thrilling as a shared connection minus its soppy movie soundtrack. This is reality; those sugary stories have grains of truth.

How can everyone be ignoring this? My face doesn’t burn for them. I want the recognition to go on.

But the train’s clanking screech is running thin; we pull into the station, posters looming large and curved on the pitted walls. With an echoing sigh, we pull alongside the platform, full of dark forms and waiting faces. The static minds around me spring back to life, to electric sounds and quickened hearts; they find their feet, eyes unglazing. They lurch around; some scattering to the fresh air and light, others huddling and shoving into vacated places. Still others make room for the frantic dark shapes leaping aboard, forced to keep their feet.

It’s not my time to go. I take the advantage of stillness, switching arms to let the other burn out white with needles. Lift my eyes to find the dancers, I find only a heaving, shuffling flow, out the mouth of the train door. He’s down there on the platform, upright as stone. Commuters swirl about him, while he clings to the girl, pressing her to his chest. The top of her head fits snugly under his chin. One of his arms loops up, unhooking the earphones; he rings them about his neck.

It takes a moment for me to realize neither of them is being forward. The girl hooks her own arm about the man’s waist as they move away from the carriage that kept them physically apart, but lyrically sound. A shared song – maybe their first dance as lovers, words that trigger memory-meanings. Even as I watch, her lips find his ear and whisper some intimacy. Their slim backs vanish among the flaring colours and luggage.

Shrugging, I listen for the hissing swoosh of the doors, the rubbery thunk of their repaired seal. The train jerks out of its own stupor, begins again the hollow rattle of its continuing journey down the tunnel.

2 Comments

  1. bgbowers said,

    So many wonderful images, Rachel. This post reminds me of an assignment I had at Uni in 2005. We had to ride the local city bus, observe and write. Then we had to whittle down all those observations and turn it into a poem. Your post makes me want to revisit that raw data and construct a new poem.

    My favourites:

    “I’m caught in the heaving crush of human forms, which net and hold me, a gasping fish in this breathless heat.”

    “I spy a torso that appears to dance in its own energy coil”

    Wonderful 🙂

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