The Elizabeth Line

The tube was always lonely. But not as lonely as that Monday, when Tymour drifted onto it. The dim idea trailed him that perhaps he wasn’t good at his job. Canary Wharf was certainly worse every day, the office was a nightmare, and sure they said the first year was always the worst. Sure the coffee machine worked most days, and sure every Friday night was Platinum Lace night with the other new recruits, but today he had screwed the numbers and earned a right beating, a proper beating, but all they did was tell him to go back to Egypt, but no, his parents were from Cairo, he was from Kingston, and all they did was fling a stack of paper at him, and they missed, the fat fucks, but fucking hell, three months in and the urge to stay in bed and fuck it all was growing stronger every day, but no, he couldn’t let it beat him, no. He tried to focus on what was around him, the brand new, squeaky seats of the Elizabeth line were empty, not a man or woman in sight, the walls of the tunnel hazy behind clean windows, and hazy Tymour sitting hazy in that damn tube, and only very late did he realise he was the only one in that carriage, which was odd because it was Monday but he supposed it was nothing extraordinary for a ride past midnight—the announcer shrieked for Whitechapel, he lived on Bond Street—and he felt small, real small, but that was London, wannit, but no, no, this was different, crazy different when the carriage screeched and scratched on the tracks and made him sway from side to side like seaweed, and at length they came to Liverpool Street and the damn announcer at it again, well, Tymour knew it was automated, but surely you can get mad at a robot, or at the very least an annoying faceless voice, and speaking of faceless, what was wrong with this carriage—three stops and not a soul on board, but no, just before the doors closed at Liverpool Street, a man in a long overcoat walked in, the kind that aren’t stylish anymore anywhere in London, but he looked good anyway and Tymour paid him no mind as Londoners ought to do, but he sat right across him, right across, well a seat to the left, to be precise, the whole carriage empty and this geezer has the gall to face him, what, so Tymour stared at his own reflection in the window, so clean he could have eaten off it, and he stared and stared, and the lights flickered, strange because this wasn’t some damn Piccadilly service, it was the Elizabeth line, and newer than King Charles, a king not coronated, but anyhow a line that goes to Canary Wharf should have had lights that worked surely, and then all of a sudden the man in the overcoat, big burly bearded bloke began to speak, speak at Tymour, speak to Tymour—stunned beyond belief for a brief moment but then he found his words and he ran over in his mind what the man said to him, about where he worked, whether it was Bailey and Bailey and Tymour said, yes, I do, and he did, and it was the best wealth management firm he could have joined, especially at a time like this, when the markets were in the shits and the supermarkets empty and the babies crying and the jobs vanished into thin air, so yes, Bailey and Bailey, mate, and rightly so, and the man said nothing and the lights flickered some more and in those microseconds in the dark, Tymour found the tunnel outside oddly lit by a dim glow but tunnels didn’t glow surely and then the man asked him again, did you short the stock on Wordify, and Tymour was then guarded, having overcome his shock completely, because strangers with questions were bad news in London, and even worse news in the City of London, so Tymour ignored him and he scratched his neck and loosened his tie and when the man asked again he was more firm, and Tymour told him to piss off, and then the man’s voice grew deep and bellowed through the carriage, even though he was calm, calmer than the carriage swaying, insisting that Tymour should tell him, and Tymour was suddenly afraid, oh, the fucking tracks howling in the tunnels, it definitely made it worse, for he had never been so uncomfortable on the tube, not even when that homeless man had sat next to him, or when the mother with babies abreast had eyed him like a demon while he sat down, no, he had worked hard to join Bailey and Bailey, and he didn’t know what this geezer wanted until he said to Tymour, two thousand people lost their jobs at Wordify because your team shorted the stock, and now they will starve like the others in this country, and Tymour told him it wasn’t his fault that the country starved, because it wasn’t, and the man told him that it was his fault that these people will starve, and Tymour wanted to move to another seat but he couldn’t move, and the man pulled out a small book from inside his coat and sighed into it, his breath heavy like a winter gale but rancid, and he listed the stocks that Tymour had shorted, and Tymour thought that it had been a god-awful while since the tube had left Liverpool street and Farringdon still nowhere in sight, the man still speaking to him, his left leg shaking like those bored smokers who crowded the tube to Canary Wharf every day, and then he slammed the book shut and stood up to exit, and Tymour gulped because the lights went out for good and there was this red glow on the edges of the carriage windows, the screeching, the howling, the whimpering tube still sped on, when abruptly Farringdon station whooshed into view and it was crowded, it was right crowded, Tymour saw in the reflection of the window behind the man, and then he turned and saw for himself, the station was packed with men and women too close to the tube tracks for safety and they looked harrowed, and they looked ragged, and they looked at him with unsurprised resignation, but the tube just kept going, just kept on going—Bond Street only one stop away—so the faces were blurred but Tymour could make out frowns and gaping maws, they were legion, the crowds thronging on the platform, but a day or two ago, he would called for bread and circuses, to no avail, to no avail—now they cried to enter the carriage because nobody wants to be at Farringdon station on a Monday night, surely, least of all people Tymour frozen in his seat with his ribs caving in as if someone big and burly and bearded had embraced him, like something huge and hurried had subdued him, and the man whom Tymour thought was leaving the tube had not moved but he did clutch a feather in his hand, a feather out of nowhere, as the screeching, loud enough now to drive someone mad, sounded no more like tracks—Bond Street only one stop away—and the man whose beard seemed so thick in the dark felt like fur on Tymour’s face as he suddenly held Tymour close, and the breath like rotting meat, as he gently moved through the flesh like it was foam and pushed past the jumbled ribs and took Tymour’s heart into his hand, spun it with his fingers, threw it up and caught it, and face unmoved and nose sniffing like a beast—but Bond Street was only one stop away—he held in one hand the feather and in the other the heart and held them up together for all the faces outside to gawk at, and the announcer called at Farringdon station, which glowed red, red, red in the dark.

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