Thursday, 22 November 2012

Missed connections: the tube is a lonely place

Barry Stewart

I'm currently sat on the scruffy but comfortable seats of the Bakerloo line, and I am surrounded by strangers. A middle-aged man with hands the size of a small plate is sat in front of me, he is reading the Evening Standard while nervously pulling at a loose string of fabric on his red scarf. I notice a ring on his fourth finger and I wonder: Did he marry his high school sweetheart? Is he cheating on his wife? Is he happy or does he feel trapped in his wedding? Does he believe in love? Next to me, another stranger. An art student, judging by the canvas she is holding. Chances are, she goes to my university as we both went on the tube at the same stop. It appears that she has emerged from a 90s sitcom: her long green plaid skirt reveal mustard socks tucked in a pair of chunky black creepers; her fur coat is way too long for her and her hair is the exact copy of Gwen Stefani's circa the 90s. I look at her and I wonder if she is struggling with her art, if she is afraid of dying, or of success, if she admires or despises her mother. Truth is, I will never know. These days, taking the tube in London feels a lot like being deaf: you see but you cannot hear. Sure, you might strike up a random conversation with an even more random stranger, but either way you look at it, the tube is a pretty lonely place.

Having lived in London for more than a year, the tube is one of my familiar spots. I know which lines run the fastest, which lines are great for planking, which lines have the most cozy seats and which ones are best known for fire emergencies (Victoria Line -If you are wondering whether hell exists, yes it does and this is it). But what all these lines have in common is this: silence. Silence, fear and perhaps, yes, curiosity. Every time I am on the tube I cannot help but wonder: what is this person's story? Is he like me? We often forget that others have stories as complex and twisted as ours, that their personality is not flat, just like their thoughts and desires. I am always curious about others' thoughts as it is unfathomable for me to conceptualize another inner world but mine. I almost always wonder about their inner struggles; whether they have found their home yet, whether they believe in God or not -and whether it makes it easier for them to live, whether they are going home to someone or to themselves. I wonder about their secrets, their dark fears, their silly beliefs... and I also wonder if they will go home and think of me, if they ask themselves what my story is -if I am scared of heights or if I enjoy greek plays. It feels to me that if we are all thinking of each other at the same time, somehow, somewhere, there is a connection. A string that connects us all and makes us more than just meat machines riding the tube to go to work or university.

David Harris

Perhaps one of the most fascinating and intriguing idea is that we run into so many strangers at a certain given location and time, that some of them are bound to appear in our lives at some point. Last year was my first year at University of the Arts London (LCC) and I didn't know anyone when I first came to London. I have since then met a lot of people and created very special bonds with some of them -most of whom I now call family. When talking about our first encounter with each others, it appeared that the first time we talked was actually not the first time we met or ran into each other. A lot of my very close friends at university were at a Fresher's Party in LCC last year, which I attended as well. What this means is that we were all together in one same room, at the same time, without knowing each other, and without knowing that in a few months we would become friends. I probably passed one of my friend on the way to the bathroom, or smoked a cigarette next to another one... Who knows? You have certainly experienced something similar, or felt that the people in your life right now have been there the whole time -you simply didn't know them or saw them. This brings me back to the tube because it makes me wonder: how many of these strangers will make an impact on my life? Maybe this man reading the news will turn out to be my husband's father. Maybe this lady with her baby will be trapped with me in a faulty elevator. Maybe this man will become one of my university tutor. I never know, and chances are I never will, but spending so much time in the tube with a sea of strangers always makes me wonder what connects us as humans. And the answer is always this: stories. Everybody has a story to tell, but we fail to remember because, let's admit it, sitting in the tube is pretty damn lonely at the end of the day.

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