The Commuter Brigade

Summer creeps through the window, back lit blue. Tufted white clouds move delicately, gliding horizon bound. Clear skies once more. No signs of rain.

Stumbling from the house I valiantly head out into the burning sunlight, piercing my vision. Shafts of light push through the trees as the car canters through the waking countryside. I am seventy miles from deliverance with two hours to run, slowly coming out of my torpor.

The journey suddenly progresses to the railway station. Others join me in the morning platform shuffle. They stand at their self-allotted guard posts, attended daily with the same solemn shape. Hunched, resting, leaning, our eyes rove around the motley crew. We are the Commuter Brigade prepared for action, awaiting the rumble and hum of the machine that will take us to the front.

She glides in and, with our passage now assured, we cluster waiting for the siren signal to clamber aboard. A whine and shudder and we gracefully move away – London bound.

Steadily we draw closer. Stations pass in a grey blur. Some of us sit, slumped, eyes closed – sleeping ourselves awake. Others read, casting furrowed glances at translucent sheets – etched with the stories of success, failure, trauma and bliss. The distant echo of a half-heard tune resonates briefly around the carriage, absorbed and lost into listless ears.

Not long now. It’s but a rattled quick-step, jaded by memory, to our tomb settled beneath the streets – that cavernous hell where the dry air huddles us and clustered beads of sweat flutter down.

Sinking in.

We hear the clatter and mutter of thousands of other poor souls, destined for the same fate. Other disparate groups gather with us as we descend deeper into the hollow expanse. The darkened arches, colours stained and running, softened corners of flaking posters offering holidays abroad.

We bow our heads at the platform edge.

And so the sermon begins.

‘We are gathered here today to commemorate one of life’s boundless calamities, to give recognition to the strife and suffering of those with us today, the Commuter Brigade.’

A rumble. Distant but ever closer.

Arrested some begin to scuffle to secure a place aboard the cattle train, awash with bodies and a silent acceptance that this is our plight.

‘Please stay behind the yellow line’

We clash, crook and reel, accommodating each other with the code of honour. We stand millimetres apart, wholly silent.

‘Please move right into the carriage’

We settle and pause.

‘Mind the doors please, stand clear of the doors.’

Standing so close, yet a world apart – strangers, lovers, liars, believers, cheaters and trusted companions.

We scuttle away and the worming tube takes its first victim. A knock throws a naive visitor into our midst. Whispered apologies, fumbling words. Silence returns.

I watch the perspiration appear like a wave upon the brow of a fellow sentry. He blinks, struggling to re-open his eyes. He keeps them closed, moving his head into the frantic breeze that eddies between the carriages. Brief rest bite from the already inevitable fate.

Torrid hopes and dreams, with no exit.

This day is like every other. The summer has yet to break – the rain has yet to thunder into the arteries of our great city, the cold has yet to crack the scorching tunnels. So we wait for that impending storm, that barrage of rain drenched bullets, to release us from our stupor.

Our aching jaws grip a hot parched tongue – accepting we search bleary eyed and deadened. We are the Commuter Brigade. In the flickering gloom below we watch and wait.

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