Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Journey Home

Riding down the escalator, I glanced at my watch and noted that it is already 6.11pm. Shucks, that means the train would be jam-packed with commuters. Made a mental note again (as with every other day) to try to leave earlier to avoid the crowd.

Quickening my pace towards the station, the word ‘Sale’ seemed jump at me from every direction. It’s the Mid Year Sale again. One drawback to working in the proximity of a shopping complex is the amount of temptations one would have to face every day. Fighting off just one such ‘devilish thoughts’ now, I tore away my gaze from the shop windows and set it resolutely to the far end of the pathway that leads to the underground station.

As i joined the throng of people making their way to the station through the tunnel, I saw 2 girls in short white skirts handling out some packet things to the passers-by in front of a makeshift booth. Suddenly, one of the girls thrust a packet of soy drink in front of me. “Try our new…” Without waiting for her to finish, I grabbed the packet drink and walked on.

After passing through the express lane with just a flash of my season card, I descended the stairs and came upon groups of people already waiting in front of the yellow boxes that mark the spots where the train doors would be stopping. I quickly looked at the sign to determine my platform and made my way to the middle of platform 2 where there are always fewer people. More people are appearing from the stairs and escalators, some joining me in my queue while others run toward the platform opposite where the train is already beeping its warning that their doors are closing.

Less than a minute later came the rumbling of the approaching train and 2 seconds later, the underground tracks were lighted up by the train’s headlights. The people begin to inch closer to the front. In unison as if by some unheard instruction, a narrow passageway opened up to let the people getting off the train pass before the rest of us pressed ourselves into the train, fearful to be the one left behind.

The already packed carriage came to an exploding point as the train pulled away and sped on towards the next station. As there would be no hope of ever finding an unoccupied seat, I held on for dear life and fell into the rocking rhythm of the moving train. With a total disregard for personal space, where every inch of standing space counts, the stench of unwashed humanity was overpowering. As naturally as possible, I turned away from the guy on my right, who reeks of mouldy undried clothes. But almost immediately, my nostrils were hit by yet another smell, this time from a lady in a blue headdress standing to my left. Face expressionless and avoiding any eye contact with anyone, I could only bear it until the crowd thins out.

4 stations later, someone near me got up to disembark. Without missing a beat, I settled into his place albeit it being all heated up, grateful for the opportunity to rest my legs. Standing near the door were 3 girls of around 15, in very short shorts and crazy colourful hair, creating a racket with their loud chattering and laughter. In another corner sat a couple, lost in a world of their own while the girl opposite me is having an sms relay with someone. The rest of the carriage were either having a shut-eye or just staring off into space. Soon, I too was oblivious to the goings-on around me as I lose myself in my book.

A few more stations later, the train speakers crackled to life and a voice mumbled something about the train approaching its last stop. Speeding up my reading, I finished up the paragraph and with a sigh, marked the page before stuffing it back into my bag. My carriage is nearly empty by now, with only 5 other persons left.

Exiting through the express lane, I saw the white-haired lady sitting at her usual spot at the bottom of the stairs, arms raised towards all the people coming out of the station, as if praying to them. Everyone averted their eyes and walked past her, pretending she wasn’t there. Reaching into my bag, I felt for the packet of soy drink and without even stopping, shoved it into the hands of the praying lady, almost forcefully, almost angrily, as if the very act itself is an embarrassment.

From the road outside, the train of which womb I have just emerged from a moment earlier lay dormant, the dark brown tracks beneath it snaking away through the concrete jungle of the city. Tomorrow will be another journey.