Groundhog Day in Metropolis

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The sound of my alarm clock hits me like a jolt of lightening at exactly 7.45am, as I am abruptly awoken from a vivid dream about a past life of some kind. I press snooze, but there is no going back; the birds are singing outside and I have a train to catch.

Bleary eyed, I pull the bedsheets from over myself and stumble like a drunk towards the bathroom, stubbing my toe on a pile of half-read books propped up against a wall. "Bastards," I mumble, stepping into the shower in a clambering attempt to gain full consciousness, almost slipping in the bathtub as I attempt to open a window to let in some fresh air. Warm water blasts over my skin and I begin to feel alive, but time is short and there is no time to revel in the moment.

I get dressed, have breakfast and leave with plenty time to make my train. On my way I pass a school and it sends a chill up my spine. A car speeds past with music blaring, and my thoughts shift elsewhere. I focus on the sound of the bass drum repeating – a deep, low thud, loud enough to awaken the entire street – but the noise quickly fades as the car vanishes toward the city.

I continue walking and notice a smashed up car by the side of the road. It is wine red in colour with racing style markings in white emblazoned on its side. Beyond the car, on the opposite side of the street, I see a mother trailed by her three children – two boys, about eight years old, and a girl, about six – marching like soldiers along the pavement. They are all dressed in matching grey and navy school uniforms, and the boys look mischievous, as if they are plotting an escape; the girl, in contrast, appears passive and obedient as she trots alongside her mother.

As I approach the main road, I notice a woman standing smoking outside a grey, concrete, box-like building. Bits of broken glass surround her, though she seems oblivious. She is holding a mobile phone to her ear with one hand, and has a cigarette in the other. There is an agitated tone in her hoarse voice, and as I pass her an unwelcome blast of pungent perfume rushes with force up my nostrils; I feel awake now.

I cross the main road, dodging rush hour traffic, and with five minutes to spare arrive at the train station. I purchase a ticket from a female attendant and climb the well-worn stairs towards the platform. A handful of others are mulling around, waiting for the train. I lean against a wall and close my eyes. The morning sun shines on my face, and for a few brief seconds I feel as relaxed and content as I ever have.

At 8.46am a freight train speeds past, just as I notice two familiar looking women talking to a man on the far side of the platform. They look awake and full of energy; I wonder who they are, where they are going and where they are from. I make eye-contact with one of the women, but she immediately turns her glance elsewhere.

Seconds later, like clockwork, my train arrives on time. I board and find a seat next to an overweight middle-aged man wearing a black pinstripe suit. He is reading a tabloid newspaper, chewing gum, and has a briefcase clutched between his feet. I hope I don’t end up like him, I think to myself, as I concentrate on the sound of the tracks and fall into a daydream about the future.

The carriage is hot and stuffy, but thankfully the journey is only a short one. After only fifteen minutes the train stops and everybody shuffles off, entering into a clingy blanket of musty city air whilst neurotically avoiding physical contact of any kind with other passengers. I step carefully over the gap between the train and the platform and watch the rat race begin.

People pour from the doors of the train with furious speed, charging towards the exit; the sound of the station tannoy bounces from the walls like a football; and with my senses buzzing I catch bits of conversations taking place all around me. The only words I can hear, though, are those of Jimmy Reid:

“A rat race is for rats… a rat race is for rats… a rat race is for rats… a rat race is for rats…”

Amidst the crowds I suddenly begin to feel very alone, and just then I see a girl shining like the sun standing dead centre in the middle of the station. Dark skinned, with curly brown hair, her smile is like a beacon of light to a ship lost at sea. For a moment everything is in slow motion, but in a flash she is gone.

The sight of the girl fills me with a strange, unforeseen optimism. Her image comforts me as I gather my thoughts, stepping through the doors of the station, moving towards the city centre, towards the eye of the storm, taking one step at a time headlong into the metropolis.