Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Smiling At Strangers On Trains

To quote Strindberg and Helium (which is quite wonderful if you haven't seen it, and where Amanda Palmer stole the intro for Strength Through Music from), a peculiar thing happened to me this morning yesterday evening, and if you will indulge me a thousand words or so, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on the situation...


Smiling at strangers on trains.

I've taken too much Tramadol again.

It's a familiar feeling. Floating through the arms of my opiate saviour. Chasing away that relentless lower back pain from the rotting organs inside my body, the ones that betrayed me even before I was born. At least, I guess, I know how I'm gonna die. The day to day effects of it, though, the PKD that's not even at it's worst yet; I'm just another fucking opiate junkie. Wasting the time I don't have, wasted. Oh boy. It's just that I can't work when I'm in pain and this year, the Christmas drama has come early. The obligatory “I'm home for Christmas” text from a childhood ex-lover. That one, the one we all have. It takes all my willpower and opiates not to fall back into the seven year cycles I travelled when I thought that he was my soul mate. Just too respond with my characteristic curt but polite response that fools that don't know me call confidence, or arrogance, or both.

So I've taken too much Tramadol again. To quell the pain, from my body, from my heart, from all of it and everything else I can't tell you. To break the curse of the Christmas drama, even for a little while. I'm up on my cloud like nothing can touch me, floating down escalators and shrugging into seats. One of the things I love about London is that you can disappear down the rabbit hole of yellow lights and dirty tube mice (well, they're sorta like rabbits) and emerge half an hour later, the other side of the world. It's good for my head, these transport links, good for the part of me I inherited from my father that is filled with the eternal urge to run away.

So I'm in my seat. Middle of the carriage. Trying to tell my brain that just because a cycle is well travelled, familiar, it doesn't mean it's a comfort. Thinking about do I trust that I've left enough food for my cat. Thinking oh shit, I should adjust my eye-liner that's no doubt on my chin. When I sat down, the bright, angry colours of the girl next to me's phone screen drew me in momentarily, and I purposely diverted my eyes. Polite respect. She's got her headphones in anyway. I have an instant emotional reaction to her, lovely dark hair, curvy face. Kind, like I'd want her to sing me to sleep. Curvy as fuck and I remember thinking, I bet you'd look so pretty if you just smiled. Maybe I can make you smile, one day.

I pull out my compact and I display with a talent that only stems from a die-hard Londoner my ability to adjust my make-up on my train. I promise you, I'm not so fucked I can't do my make-up. I'm wary of leaning too far into the women either side of me. Puckering my lips and reapplying my lip-gloss and when I think I'm near presentable I flick it all back into my shoulder bag and reach for my Kindle.

There's a few moments when I scroll for my book where the tube lights flicker dystopian, ragged, flashing.

Then all of a sudden, the pretty girl to the left moves for me. Pulls her headphones out of her ears, holding them in one snow white hand, and she lifts her wrist. Dives for my face, cupping my chin in her hand. For a nanosecond, and I react, lean out of her reach, back onto the woman on the other side me. I usually have some clever and quick witted cutting response, for situations like this, but it's all happened too quickly and I'm just stunned. Staring there, I've instantly gone to swipe her hand away. Quick hands palms out like they teach you in all the self-defence classes for young, single, angry fuck-you women.

She stumbles over her words.

“You gotta bittofa-”

The quickest response I can muster is “Don't touch the face.”

She's French. That sexy accent that I'm always a sucker for. I'm torn between the horror that an absolute stranger has felt the need to touch my face, and the intimacy that her gesture, had she managed to grab a hold, would have created. Do I feel like this because she is pretty, or is it something else, something to do with my ex-lover's obligatory Christmas hello text? Some self-preservation screw you buddy urge?

The French-girl, she realises that she's overstepped her mark. Instantly looks down at her feet, turning half-red and mutters a quick sorry; because I'm so still in shock, I don't tell her that it's fine.

However I'm to English to move. Not that there's anywhere else to sit at half seven on the Victoria line to Stockwell anyway, and my kidneys still hurt despite the Tramadol haze and I don't want to draw more attention to myself than I already have anyway.

So I sit. I ferment. Her touch has woken something inside of me, some distant memory of my ex-lover. No, of all my ex-lovers. The one nights and the long terms and the maybe might have beens and the never weres. The ones that meant everything, ones that meant nothing. The ones that meant nothing that ended up meaning everything. The ones I was in love with, or in lust with, all the things that fell apart that I over or under reacted to given the point I was at in my life. I wonder, at any point, if one of those men or women had touched me like that, I would have just widened my eyes and smiled like I do when I want to get laid. Why then, was that okay? For them to cup my face out of the blue, for me to inhale and close my eyes and smile into their kisses, feeling something close to the harmony of love? I feel the echoes of a thousand loving touches burnt into my skin, a surprisingly levelled reaction, seems my love life is essentially me reacting very calmly to a series of unfortunate events (this is the name, by the way, my mother commonly uses to refer to my romantic exploits). Surely, if I'm still mourning the loss of the last glorious touch from a heaven-sent sweetest and beautiful boy, then her touching me like this is fine? Sexy, even, and why is it such a violation of my boundaries just because the pretty French-girl hasn't even told me her name?

My train arrives at Stockwell before I come to a decision, and I still can't decide if I'm a fool for letting my old lovers touch me or if I should have just asked her fucking name.