All Of The People

There’s a monotony to the trudging, simultaneous marching that echoes throughout rush hour. Everybody seems the same, affected by the very same problem that confronts us all. Time. The name rush hour is given quite appropriately, but it should not only reflects the feeling of an hour and a half when people are leaving work, but the very nature of city life itself.

Every part of the day, every minute and insignificant detail of city life is a barrage to be first, be slightly better, gain something that somebody else doesn’t have. The subtly smug and satisfied eyes of a businessman as the doors close on the underground train you needed to catch, as you’re left waiting on the platform, the piercing into your eyes stays with you for a minute of two. You think to yourself, was that look really necessary? Probably not. But, on further reflection, you realise that the businessman probably needed greater levels of subtle satisfaction than yourself, he will get to his connection on time, and be able to travel for an hour to spend just another hour with his family before a similar state of affairs occurs the next day. And the next, and the next.

It’s as isolating as it is interesting and fun, and the rush does manage to seduce you, not with its glamour, because it’s far from glamourous. It manages to addict you with a few simple things, the adrenaline and the longing for more, once you’ve moved into a busy life of routine, of pushing, few acts of politeness and selflessness. It evolves into something wholly self-centred, a rush and a period of your life which ingrains negativity into your being, a cynicism and pessimism that you justify as realism. You often hear, ‘yes, I know how the world works’. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to rephrase and suggest that you know how a world works.

There is a vast difference between understanding and being involved in a certain society thriving on individual and collective gain, to be the best that you can be, encouraged by advertising and peers alike, and being involved with something that makes you truly happy; a job or a path in life you have chosen not for money but for wellbeing. This attracts you in a different way, but a better way. Being involved with somebody’s experience so intimately due to your job or career and affecting their life positively, and most importantly unknowingly, is something that is invaluable, something that stock brokers and financiers cannot hope to put a price on. The way in which you share a smile with the businessman who glares at you infuriates him even more; you’ve chosen a wholly different life, where an underground ride is not a necessity but an experience. It’s okay, wait for the next train, inhale the dirt and grime and the experience, the array of emotion, ironically amongst the motionless and lifeless people of the city.

You wait with a smile which the businessman doesn’t understand, a calm and collected smirk, relaxed and carefree. A smile that only reveals itself when you have an empathy; you don’t care for two simple minutes, one hundred and twenty seconds, you’ll have plenty more of them. The smile is indeed a sadness for the businessman. His piercing glance haunts you slightly, the ice-cold emotion; an inhibition amongst the selfish people driven by a fear of time, and a lust for ruffling notes of paper with a number on them. It’s ironic, that his smug glance was a reflection of his jealousy towards you, that you’re more than happy to wait a little longer, that you fully understand there is little point in chasing something unchatchable, a virtual object you can never lay your hands on; it becomes the smaller and more insignificant details in this overwhelmingly detailed life which matter the most, the looks that people share with you and the laughter, rather than generalised, subjective manmade concepts you can’t place a hand on, and can’t feel deeply, swooping through your bones.

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The Light, The Dark.

Upon reflection, there’s a beauty about being anonymous, and lost in a city, even though there’s a similar amount of inner crisis that ensues observing people moving so freely and knowingly. It is quite the paradox, and difficult to explain, but something that must be felt.

First and foremost, being totally alone and overwhelmed provides myself at least, with the opportunity to be precisely who I am. By this, I mean instances and occasions of human interaction, where your innermost personality can be shown by the way in which you deal with such a situation. For example, you’re late to work, marginally. Five minutes at the most, and you’re panicking. On the platform of the Underground, noticing the yellow writing on the display boards tick down.

Two minutes.

One minute.

Due.

Boarding the train ordinarily, you’re suddenly consumed by that subliminal yet constant ‘what am I actually doing here? No, really, what is it that I’m contributing, to myself (how is this helping me?) and to the world. In the great scheme of things, how is my journey going to change anything?’ The tube is a coffin of thoughts. You’re buried alive, with no phone signal, with only your thoughts for company unless you’re a lucky one. So, you’re bound to think of these types of questions, about what it is you’re doing. It’s a simple and almost meaningless question, perhaps even impossible to answer, but thinking about it isn’t necessarily going to change anything, but it may open up a few options.

Underpinning the journey is the grime. The subtle dirt around you that you’re aware of, which gets under your fingernails from the escalator and the almost fluorescent yellow handlebars as you hurtle down the pitch-black tubes filled with rats, and the feint hum of electricity. It’s somewhat surreal, that dirt and blackness can get under your skin, just as complex thoughts can be so intrusive into your body. You shrug it off. Wash your hands and your face at the toilet. Shit. Another thirty seconds to the journey time, and thirty pence to keep a cleaner in a job. Supposing that thirty pence hand-wash does indeed keep somebody’s job, it’s a worthwhile investment.

(What am I doing here?)

Trudging up the steps is a daily routine, the suited and booted rushing past you with their over exaggerated sense of self-importance. They’re earning themselves a lot of money, an incomprehensible amount. I suppose that’s what matters to them, and that’s good, isn’t it? But who knows, some of them could be on their way to a job interview, a meagre manager of a restaurant or hotel. You simply never know. The whole affair is anonymous. That’s what’s daunting about this type of place: the hidden millionaires, the hidden poor, the kind, religious, the hideous, murderers. They’re out there, but hidden. Then, there’s yourself. You’re simply earning a living, innocently comparing hand washing to the questions of life. How simple it is. C’est la vie.

A woman crying. She stops you dead in your tracks, forgetting all sense of time and awareness for everything going on around you; it’s as if Moses has parted the sea of people between you and the lady, and so you feel compelled to intervene; how you react and respond to this scenario. That is who you are. That is the important thing about being alone in a sea of people, an ocean of personality, love and lust, selfishness and selflessness.

Option one. Indeed, you’re unaware of this woman’s story, who she is, what series of events has brought her into your path, and too, what has made her tear. But, that does not stop you from going over, noticing her shiver and so handing over your coat entirely selflessly, draping the wool over her slender and pale shoulders. You demand to go for coffee, to make sure this woman that has been identified to you in an almost unworldly type of way is in control and okay. A somewhat bizarre surge of courage and uncertainty possesses your body. You’re unaware of whether you’ll be able to survive skipping a shift at work, but making sure another, fellow and normal human is surviving is surely more important?

Option two. You arrive for work on time, and the image of her tears caressing her face stay to haunt you for a little while, as if it’s a nightmare that you cannot do anything about. That’s the point. You haven’t helped her. You have been selfish, and so you must pay. An old cliché, what goes around comes around. You cannot live so fruitfully that you become disenfranchised with the humanness of people, with the raw emotion that death and sadness, happiness and birth provoke.

And so day to day, reaching the same spot, the top of the stairs with the slight whiff of real air and natural light, where you witnessed one of the most innate human actions which impacted you so profoundly, you can be reminded that is who you are. You choose not to act, when you could have. How you react to events independently signals who you are, in whichever scenario. It is not with friends, as you’ve grown accustomed to them, and a new type of normal has been created. It is entirely independently and individually that a type of meaning can be established.