A multiple choice question for you, lovely Listener.
Would you rather:
a) Peel off your own cheek, rub salt into the bloody gaping hole, then staple the skin back to your now irreversibly deformed face;
b) Attempt to crawl inside the anus of an elephant who has just suffered from what his keeper calls ‘a wobbly tummy’; or
c) Stand in a confined space with your face inside the armpit of a stranger, and breathe in not only his gasses and vapours, but the gasses and vapours of a million other people in the same confined space for an indeterminate amount of time, twice a day?
If you have opted for a) or b), you are most likely a commuter. Hello, fellow commuters. My name is Becky, and I am a commuter.
Twice a day, I stand in a train carriage along with approximately 2,450,957 other people. There is nothing pleasant about this.
I am short, Listener. I am 5 foot 4 inches. I therefore spend a great deal of my time standing below the faces of people taller than me, and when I am trying to read my book it is difficult to concentrate when I am caught in the violent torrent of a tall man’s nose breath.
I board the morning train looking like this:
and disembark looking like this:
This is displeasing. It has also taught me that tall men breathe A LOT. More than is probably necessary.
I try to use the commuting time to read a book, in order to edify my mind. However, due to the fact that I am crammed into a small box with those 2,450,957 other people, this doesn’t always work out.
Example of failed reading #1:
Example of failed reading #2:
Oh, the intimate proximity of others, Listener. Faces everywhere. I turn my head to the right and my eyeball brushes against the eyeball of the man next to me. I turn my head to the left, and the girl chewing gum over my shoulder accidentally bites off my nose. I am so trapped I can only stare directly at whatever is straight ahead of me. On a recent journey, this happened to be an old, faded streak of bird poo on the back of a man’s jacket. By the end of the journey I was livid. JUST GET IT DRY CLEANED YOU FILTHY MONSTER. A whole journey staring into the face of another human’s evil disregard for cleanliness. Hellish.
As a commuter, you learn to perform everyday actions at a minute fraction of their normal spatial requirements: sliding an object out of your bag with a movement invisible to the naked eye; holding your phone against your retina in order to text. This doesn’t always work out: last week my headphone wire got caught in the spokes of my umbrella as I was trying to fold it away into my bag, and my head ended up being sucked into my own handbag.
And what if a song that you don’t like comes on your iPod? Or if the volume is UNBELIEVABLY LOUD AND IS LITERALLY RIPPING YOUR EAR DRUMS TO SHREDS AND WILL CAUSE YOU UNTOLD AURAL PROBLEMS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE??? There is nothing you can do about it. One of your arms is wedged against the testicles of an overweight businessman, and the other is pinned to your side by the force of 594 school children. You must spend the journey either being musically abused by the song you don’t like, or being deafened to the point of tears. The only thing you can do is just be brave, Listener. Brave.
I entered a train carriage the other week to be faced with a man’s backpack. It was preventing me from getting my whole body inside the carriage, which is often necessary for a safe journey. I politely asked the man to take off his backpack so there was more room for me.
The man answered me with a cold, hard stare that said ‘When you die, I will not only give an incorrect church address to all your mourners, but I will visit your lonely grave and write in marker-pen on the gravestone: ‘I’ll wear my backpack wherever the f*ck I like”.
I was thus forced to hope that my body was mostly inside the train carriage, and as the doors closed, I was relieved to discover that I had not lost a crucial appendage – until I realised that my hair had become trapped in the door. I realised this because it forced my head to slowly lift towards the ceiling, so I had to spend the entire journey gazing quizzically aloft and pretending I was thinking deeply about something, with this bastard’s backpack wedged against my chin.
Commuting is like being thrown into a Room 101 filled with all the horrendous things about human beings that you already hate. Incessant clearing of throats. Loud breathing. Snorting. Sniffing. Swallowing. Loud chewing. Random and inexplicable grunting. Loud private conversations about Sebastian’s unreliable cornet tutor or Roger’s worsening hernia, or loud business conversations filled with buzzwords and acronyms that make you want to vomit into your own sleeve.
Commuting is the Devil’s journey. Commuting is our penance for all the bad things we have done in our lives. And our reward for our morning’s worth of psychological and physical abuse?