Tiles. Smokey; yellow; beige. They cover everything. Stripes of primary colours link precisely nothing across, down and around the walls. A wind blows through, moving only dust. Blank eyes of CCTV probe and monitor my sins. Light drips gently in from the far end of the platform. Ten minutes to go.
I came here by mistake. I was as shocked as anyone. This was not a scheduled stop in my journey home. Not today. I was on the way to Heathrow, and I got my trains wrong. I almost didn’t make it home at all. Terminal 5 has its own branch. Either get off here or walk between the Terminals. No.
I sit at a bench, waiting for the time to tick by. The fear of the misunderstanding still courses through me, leaves me edgy. The music protects me, a bubble through which harsh reality cannot penetrate. A dog sniffs at my feet – a German Shepherd – I almost jump out of my skin. Five minutes to go.
The shock of the mistake has faded, and the alienation of Hounslow has begun to subside. The dog brought me to, and allowed me to reconnect. Burst the bubble; take off the headphones. CCTV is here for my safety. The tube will be here in a minute. It comes, I board, and we’re moving again.
We’ve been waiting here far too long. I stamp my feet to push back the cold, but it is more irritation that I am expressing. I chose this. I was lied to. Time ticks away as we stand here in an underpass.
Each bus which passes by is another quiet death. I see every one fly past us overhead, skipping the ramp down to the shabby, dark, dank bus concourse. Cars light the way, pouring their scorn on us.
The board lied to us. We bought tickets under the assumption that it was accurate: seven minutes to wait; fine. It has been more than twenty now. Young people giggle, uncaring in the face of deceit.
We should have got the train in to the city; apparently robberies are down these days. Even that line was enough to put me off from using the train. If the only compliment is to say that fewer people are being robbed, you are not giving a good account of yourself. Damned by your own very faint praise.
I had planned this trip to Paris with military precision, only to be thwarted by the inadequacies of a public transport infrastructure which takes a more than laissez-faire attitude. I no longer look to see if a bus is coming. The correct livery slides down the steep ramp. We board, and we’re moving again.
The ceiling is covered in low hanging netting, and the upward facing surfaces bristle with spikes, so as to prevent the landing of the local avian population. The atmosphere still has the tang of old and fresh bird shit hanging on it, like a guano-covered outcrop. The light is fluorescent, sickly and harsh.
I know I always count down the minutes to a bus, a train, a flight being ready for me to get the god damned hell out of here, but this is different. The scent of threat, the fear of attack is palpable here. I hold myself close, cluster myself against a wall, hiding myself in plain sight, attempting to shrink.
Why is a bus station such a magnet for the faces of undesirable folk? I don’t know that they likely mean me no harm, but it’s late, we’ve all had a few drinks; they cluster together, exchanging loud banter, unaware that every other person waiting for this bus is terrified. Of them? Perhaps.
It’s not just the fear of attack in this grim place which cripples me. At least here there are some other people. What about when I get off at the other end? I want the bus never to come as much as I want it here right now. Protection and a path to the gallows. It’s here: I board, and we’re moving again.
The Metro was comfortable, but I had to get off. The line I was on would not take me home, so I have my usual set of decisions to make. Outside is cold, and the air filled with sleet, so I shelter here, deep underground, safe amongst the warm white lights and the bright white tiles. Find a seat.
It has been a long day, with trains many and varied. I want to have a seat all the way home, and I do not want to change again. The next train would take me to the Airport, which is along the opposite path to home, so I wait. If I board, it will get me part of the way, but I’d have to wait outside. I feel the pull of forward motion, but logic dictates that I am safer here. Haymarket is my haven this night.
The trains are two minutes apart now, mine coming second. That means that the first train will have collected all of the detritus from the line. For whatever reason, people choose to change at the last stop before the split, South Gosforth. That almost guarantees me a seat. If I was walking I’d have a spring in my step. The train arrives and I sit tight. The people almost look at me in confusion as I let it go past. Once it leaves, there is a perfect silence. My train arrives. I board, and we’re moving again.
I am sitting on the steps of Bella, waves of people flowing by. They are the revellers, and I am their caterer. Dark night, under the shadow of an imposing bridge: the image of countless local artworks.
Tonight the truth lacks the washed out glow of the orange lights, painted thickly on the silky stone, which covers this piazza. Tonight there are only scantily-clad Geordies, drunk and gorging, loud and laughing, beer, chips and cigarettes. I sit still: Am I invisible or under threat? I just don’t know.
I have been waiting here far too long. I was told that it would be quarter of an hour; that was almost an hour ago. I have been here before. I have called the taxi company before, usually at the goading of a colleague. I have been told the same lies. Damn lies. “It’s just around the corner, pet.” Of course.
I have spent a full day, from my nine a.m. start, stuck in a hot and sweaty kitchen. I have fed the five thousand, and I have consumed too much caffeine. I want to get home, to have a drink, to listen to some music, and to get to sleep. The longer the taxi takes, the further off that gets. The company do not even reimburse me; get a car, they say. A familiar face pulls up: I board, and we’re moving again.