Chris did not like underground trains. He would plan his day meticulously to avoid using them. His whole life was taken up planning his journeys using buses, trains, taxis, foot, or even a combination of all four.
He would be stood on an overcrowded bus, the sweat running down his back; the steamed windows making it impossible to see out. He would hear someone talking about travelling on the tube. He hated the word tube; his mind conjured up a giant Smartie tube underground that was sealed both ends that no one could get out of. He could feel the heavy beat from his heart in his chest. He would try and swallow his saliva as though it were a gobstopper.
The conversation continued between the two people about their journey home last night and being stuck on the tube for an hour with little air and no space. He could take it no longer; he got off the bus next stop and walked the remaining mile to his office. He sucked in the air like he was just about to submerge in water.
He had had a fear of the Underground ever since he had a panic attack on the tube one day twenty odd years ago and had since made it his mission to avoid the tube at all costs. However, he was now trying to conquer his fear since getting a job in London which meant he had to travel around the city to attend important meetings. His attempts at travelling on the tube only ever resulted in one or two stops then his panic would take over. An average attempt at the tube would present him with the usual challenges. Everything seemed bright; the carriage appeared to be getting smaller. He wanted to lie down on the floor. He tried to regain his composure. He got out his newspaper and began to read. His thoughts were racing: what about if the tube got stuck in the tunnel, what about if the tunnel collapsed and the carriage became a tomb that he would never be able to get out of. He would be left to die a miserable death choking for air. He could take it no longer he jumped out at the next stop and quickly made for the solace of street level.
One day He was on the same bus that he took every day to his office. He had managed to get a seat and he was flipping through the free newspaper. All of a sudden, a shrill of someone’s voice made his heart thump in his chest.
“We need to get the tube!”
He looked around; it was the same couple who were talking the other day. They both just stared at him. The bus suddenly went eerily quiet. The palms of his hands were clammy with sweat. His head felt like it was going to burst. He dropped his head and pretended he was reading the newspaper and closed his eyes. He had momentary peace. His breathing slowed down. He opened his eyes and turned the page of his newspaper. The headline read, LONDON BUSES TRANSFORM INTO TUBE TRAINS
He read the headline again and tried to absorb what he was reading. He tried to put rational meaning to what he had just read. He looked around, everyone was looking at him. He decided he had to get off the bus. He pressed the bell and waited for the next stop. The bus kept going; He pressed the bell again and made for the doors. He shouted to the driver to open the doors but there was no answer just an eerie silence. He tried to regain his composure and pressed the bell again, maybe the driver just didn’t hear him. He would get off at the next stop; it was only a matter of minutes. He couldn’t understand why everyone was looking at him. He started to feel paranoid, had he done something bad on a previous journey that he couldn’t remember, maybe he was drunk one night and made a fool of himself, it wouldn’t be the first time, yeh, that’s what it will be, he thought to himself. He smiled and started to relax. He could see the next bus stop approaching and he prepared himself to exit the bus.
The bus did not stop but carried on. He pressed the bell again and shouted to the driver. Something was happening to the bus, the floor was moving, the roof was reducing. This is stupid, I’m imagining it, he said to himself and instead immersed himself in his paper again. He turned the next page, BUSES TRANSFORM INTO TUBE TRAINS. He turned the next page, BUSES TRANSFORM INTO TUBE TRAINS. He threw up his head, the whole bus had now transformed into a tube train. Blind panic rushed over him like a giant wave leaving him gasping for air and rigid with fear. He could see a giant tunnel suddenly appear in the road only 100 yards in front of him. He rushed for the door to try to get out, but he couldn’t, he was trapped. He suddenly became aware of soothing music drifting down the carriage. People were smiling and laughing. They were all eating from tubes of Smarties. Someone turned to him.
“Here are mate, have one,” the voice said.
He obliged, popping the smartie into his mouth. He started to feel ethereal as though he was floating. This must be a dream, he thought to himself.
He closed his eyes and re-opened them again expecting to find himself at home in bed with Lou his long term partner. He was now inside the tunnel. The train was travelling very slowly. He looked outside the window, what was normally dense blackness was now light. There were beautiful mosaic tiles on the wall of the tunnel. He could read the old adverts, OXO MAKES BETTER GRAVY, MOTHERPRIDE THE LIGHTER BREAD.
He really felt in the moment like he had never felt before, gone was all the negative and destructive thoughts, his palms were dry and his breathing deep. He had a feeling of elation inside him. His thoughts went to Lou. There relationship had not been great of late. He was going to go to the first travel agent when he got out of there and buy a weekend break away somewhere. He was going to start living life to the full. He would get a bike again and tour the beautiful Surrey Hills near his home which he loved to do, but since the birth of their first child, he had neglected his real passion in life.
He looked around; everyone had their heads in newspapers or on their Smart Phones. How could they be oblivious to this moment, he thought to himself.
The tube train came to a halt. The doors opened and he stepped out onto the brightly lit platform.
He awoke. Lou was still asleep. It had been a dream, he muttered to himself. He lay there, his body and mind completely relaxed.
He reached Waterloo station at the same time he always did, 8.26am which would allow him enough time for the 20 min bus ride to his office. For some reason, this morning, he instinctively headed for the Underground. With no thought he disappeared down the escalator. He managed to squeeze himself onto the first train that came along. It was sweltering and very stuffy, the mass of people moving to the motion of the train like some giant creature stirring from its bed.
He felt relaxed, his thoughts towards the weekend away with Lou he had booked yesterday and the bike he saw on the internet he was going to buy. Without reason, he put his hand into his jacket pocket. He felt something small like a tablet. He pulled his hand out, in it was a Smartie, a red one. He popped it into his mouth and went back to his thoughts.