Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Platform of Lost Parables

Yesterday was hectic. I was in a horrible hurry, on my way to see a house, stressed and furious, sweating and scowling, traipsing through the city with a terrific cob on, Pollyanna snivelling in my wake, nursing a black eye.

Hush now, child. Be glad it wasn’t both eyes.

I am between destinations, changing lines, cussing and sighing and surly because inconsiderate people are failing to read my mind – not even trying if you ask me – when a serious-looking gentleman in a suit which is both sparse and spruce, moves toward me to speak. He is lost. He is looking for Woolwich.

The train pulling in behind us is – I think – heading in the right direction, but I can’t be absolutely sure. There is no map in sight. ‘I think it’s this one,’ I say, as it pulls in and sicks up another fifty suits, ‘but we should really find a map.’ I gesture for him to follow me and head off on my impromptu quest; he thanks me happily and hops blithely onto the train.

When I notice his mistake, I yell, slightly melodramatically, almost in slow motion, ‘Noooooo-ooooo-oo!’ At which he hops back off the train, neatly, and the doors close behind him. ‘Come with me,’ I say, laughing merrily at his utter bewilderment. He is like a Turkish Mr Bean.

I mouth the words ‘Let’s go’ at him. Then I decide to speak them. This proves much more effective and we head off together. After a little aimless shambling, we find a map, and lo and behold, Woolwich is not even a tube station. I try to explain. ‘You need a train, mate. Upstairs.’ I point.

‘Yes!’ he cries. ‘Train!’ He pulls out a piece of paper with some words scrawled on it, amongst them ‘LONDON BRIDGE’ and ‘TRAIN’. I throw back my haircut and have a good old laugh. And my friend has a good old laugh too. And we’re both of us standing there, in this giant underground cavern, this no-man’s land between trains, having a good old laugh.

‘The train station’s upstairs,’ I tell him. He looks around him, snakes his eyes around the giant steel barn, with its stairs and tunnels, its tubes and funnels – are there funnels? Let’s say there are – and he smiles. He’s probably thinking of the barn he grew up in. Poor little mouse. ‘Where are you from, old pal?’ I say.

‘I am Kazakh man,’ he tells me, but he keeps it meek, not like you might imagine when you read the words ‘I am Kazakh man’. He is just stating a fact, as best he can. No frills, no implication. ‘Kazakhstan,’ he adds, helpfully.

‘Come on then, old sport,’ I chirrup. ‘Let’s get you onto that train.’

‘Thank you,’ says Kazakh Man.

Then we made our way along a relatively deserted platform. I didn’t speak. I wanted to, but it was too much like hard work, frankly. Bonding without language on the underground – and in a non-sexual way – is not as easy as you might think.

As I was thinking about that, a blind or partially-sighted man darted out of a tunnel to my left and came at me with his white cane. I side-stepped him neatly and was carrying on down the platform as if nothing had happened when I realised that he was speaking to me.

‘Is there a member of staff on the platform?’ he wanted to know. He needed some help getting somewhere.

I stopped. I looked. There was no one. But I did see one of those information-cum-emergency push-button intercom contraptions bolted to a wall. I asked him if that would do. He said that it would and asked me to take him to it. All the while Kazakh Man was loitering patiently. I thought for a second of introducing them. But I didn’t do it.

So there I was, plucked from the solipsistic porridge of my unspeakable rage and planted on the platform of lost parables, hand in hand with a man who couldn’t see, and a man who couldn’t speak. On we trudged, stronger for our union.

I started to laugh. Kazakh Man granted me a smile.

I left the Blind Man at the intercom system. I pressed the information button for him. He said it wasn’t an emergency. I wished him luck.

And I dropped off Kazakh Man at the ticket hall in the train station and I wished him luck too.

Then I made my way to the house, and as I made my way, I realised that I was happy. My random encounters had bucked me up no end. Good old London.

I was glad that I’d met Kazakh Man, and I vowed to take with me on my journey through life some of his humility, and some of his simple empathy, which was pure and warm and instinctive and beyond language in a way that this sentence never could be.

And I was glad that I’d met the Blind Man. He wasn’t old by the way, the blind man. He was younger than me. I wondered how long he’d been blind. I wondered if he’d become blind later in life, and if so, if he’d raged against the dying of the light for a period. He must have learned incredible patience.

So I take this too, and I make my way to the viewing with a spring in my heels.

The house, I am overjoyed to say, is awesome. Well, it’s OK. And it’s got a garden. And it felt both cosy and spacious. I liked it immediately.

When I’d done the tour I was informed that there were two more parties coming to view the property in a few hours. The pressure was on.

I took a little walk in the rain, and the dark, and the fairly biting wind, and I had a think. It’s winter. Keith’s off to take care of his dad for a while. I need somewhere to live. It almost feels like a Fresh Start is in the offing.

I caught my bank just before it closed and took out the money to cover the holding deposit. Then I went back to the agent and handed it over. I also signed a bunch of contracts. All that remains now is for my references to check out, one of which - my landlord's reference, I'm writing myself.

I am alone.

I am moving forward.

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Selena said...

This post made me smile- a real genuine one. Good for you Bete.

Anonymous said...

grinning madly here in the middle of nowhere interesting... will be toasting your fresh start!

Angela-la-la said...

Aww, living in the suburbs means you miss all this underground life affirmation stuff.

I am moving forward.

Bloody damn pleased to hear it, betty toujour! (Oh gawd, that very nearly read bloody damp leased to hear it... it's time to stop drinking for the night isn't it?)

42 said...

Clean slate
A do-over, really. The feeling of moving ahead and leaving all the crap behind because you no longer need's lovely, as was your post.

Bon Voyage and happy house moving!

Lady Julia said...

What a delightful writer you are. Thank you for sharing your talent.

Catofstripes said...

Better writing, much better writing. Good.

Misssy M said...

And, crucially, do they allow cats....?

Non, Je ne regrette rien said...

I feel all warm and toasty inside. bugger. if you start writing about growing tomatoes, I'm outta herre.

Anonymous said...

Well done on the house! Sounds brilliant, get to grow and what-not. I know exactly what you mean by the Kazakh man and Blind man encounter and the after-glow in which it leaves you. These things remind us of the bond we all share, the bond of humanity in its simplest, undistorted sense. When random scenes like this unfold and you're priviledged enough to be a participant, it's no wonder you feel a spring in your step. We become alive to life and the many beings that occupy it. We are reminded of our own 'human-ness'. Thanks for sharing this post and for still keeping this blog 'personal'. :) Have a lovely weekend.

Rose said...

Good old London, indeed.
Random, genuine encounters are the best.
Good luck on the house!

Clare Sudders said...

Re your encounter with Kazakh Man: It's a shame it wasn't the other way round, and then you could have announced yourself thus:

"I am Kazakh Stan."

Sherylificus said...

Alarmingly frequently, I find my interactions with strangers more uplifting than interactions with my friends or housemates.

Unfortunately, I don't spend a lot of time with strangers.