Tuesday, July 22

Of Something Bad or Undesirable

BETWEEN THE THREE lifts are two portrait television screens that are firing up constantly, multicoloured, giving information, advertising, all in silence. The dreamcoat spread of underground routes flashes up with their statuses; ‘good service’ mostly, but I see that on my route – Hammersmith & City – there are ‘severe delays.’
Back when I lived in the country, in a small village threaded around a road that went from one small town to another, suicide was very uncommon. When it happened (we never received the local paper), it was talked about quiet but fervently. It was very common for the meagre population to know of the person, through some degree or other; ‘Florence’s son, you know!’ You knew the house they grew up in and maybe you had seen them at school and spoken to them so that in death you might boast about it as though they were celebrities. They had a face and faces and then they had neither and were dirt in the ground for moss to grow over. The parents, if you saw them hurrying out of the corner-shop, appeared despondent and torn up. So that was them and they were real people and they were gone before you.
On the intercity trains, there were suicides all the time. The term muttered in hushed, colloquial tones by railroad men was ‘jumpers’ and it soon blossomed into the vocabulary of commuters; jumpers upon the track like a strewn sweater all bloody. They were cursed aloud and given no sympathy. No one regarded them with much more than contempt as their dinners grew cold and their carriage grew hotter. You could at least tell where the jumper was from because it was announced most formally—‘We apologise for the delay but there has been a fatality at Romford.’ Fatality was a euphemism for jumper, which was a euphemism for someone who had had a mother and a favourite chocolate bar before killing themself. Euphemism, in its Greek carving, is a beautiful word. I watched people look out of the train window as it passed over a parallel track to that of the incident. Their faces all pivoted together; no sign; successful clear-up; move on. ‘So that was the platform.’ ‘Sorry I’m late . . . there was a jumper.’
In the city it is different. The city strives to remove faces wherever it can. The ‘severe delays’ were someone’s suicide fatality jumper inconvenience. The transport network acted quickly to stem the disruption; their efforts applauded by tired eyebrows. I was able to skip the H&C line, though, and found myself on a sardine tin Central line train where the heat cooks you in your clothes. An obese woman was fanning herself for the only movement around. I made it home in good time, which pleased me as I had worked late and it was a warm evening. I didn’t think at all about who might’ve thrown themself in front of a moving train with many adults and children watching and the whole circus going on, and growing tired of one act being drawn to another. Severe delays to minor.

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