Sunday, February 3, 2013

Near miss

He on the  down-escalator, she on the up. Who saw the other first? They waved more or less at the same time. It was five-thirty on a Friday afternoon.  The London rush hour. Time to go home or to meet friends for a drink.   There was no room for either of them to turn on the moving segment of stair on which each was wedged.  He shouted her name across the well, "Sylvie'". She managed only a smothered cry.

He thought: What to do? What would be in her mind? Had she shared the intensity of his feelings? They were different people then. How long was it? Ten or eleven years? Should he when he reached the bottom of the escalator turn and go up?  Would she wait at the top? Or even turn round and transfer to the down-escalator? Time would have changed her as it had changed him. He could not, as he might  once have done, guess her thoughts or feelings. Or predict her behaviour.  Just follow your instincts, he said to himself, and  edging into the jostling crowd, up he went back where he had come from.

She thought: What to do? More than anything else she wanted to tell him that she had missed him. She repeated his name under her breath, "Tim, Tim",  as though chiding him. More recently since her marriage break-up, he had been continually on her mind. At least the Tim she had known. No question,   she would turn at the top of the stair and go down in pursuit. With luck he would be waiting for her. With luck. She wanted to throw her arms round him. To say sorry, though she was not sure for what she was sorry.

What happened? They both retraced their steps, he on the up-escalator, she on the down. They passed for the second time midway, and waved frantically. He tried to indicate that this time  she should wait for him at the top but his signals were open to misinterpretation. And uncertainty was beginning to gnaw on either side.

She thought it likely that he was hurrying home to a girlfriend or a wife. Or perhaps he was on his way to an appointment. Perhaps one  that would affect his future. She felt guilty about her own loyalties, the new lover she was on her way to meet.

This pursuit is about to become absurd, he thought, a perpetual hell of passing escalators sweeping them off for ever in opposite directions. What if they succeeded in making contact? What would be the outcome?  Life was complicated enough as it was, in the office and at home. An ache hollowed his stomach.

He realised then as did she that to resume their journeys they would anyway have to retrace their steps, he on the up and she on the down-escalator. This time they glanced across the well but there was an awkwardness in their wave, something half greeting, half farewell.

At the top of the escalator the crowd grew even busier and more urgent and she felt herself swept on towards the station exit.  In the sharp  air of  the winter evening laden with fumes and the smell of food, a tear came  to her eye. She wiped it away impatiently. She had promises to keep.

At the bottom of  the stairwell for the second time he half turned and tried to join the opposing stream of people to go up again, but he was troubled by doubts and fears.  He was older now. Suspicious of impulse. He gave in and allowed himself to be dragged by the flow towards the Northern Line platform and the train that would take him home.

1 comment:

  1. Mathematical and geometrical yet nonetheless believable, I like the way this story resides for all its complexity in a single image: the escalators, one Up and one Down.