Sitting down rapidly in a newly vacated seat, Stuart claimed his prize, a seat on the 8:00am tube to Shepherds Bush, a rarity for this time of day. Although he was usually a gentleman and would give his seat away to anybody, today he was not feeling so charitable.
9/11 changed everything for people in public places, Stuart wondered if people would ever feel safe again. He used to love people watching, it used to bemuse him. Now he did it for a totally different reason. He stiffened in his seat as he surveyed the array of semi-conscious people blankly staring into space, it only took one person with the mind of Satin to destroy the lives of so many people. And it wasn’t just the people sat in the carriage, it had devastating consequences for family, friends, work colleagues, tube staff and so it went on.
Looking around the tightly compact carriage Stuart made eye contact with an Asian man sitting adjacent to him with a large holdall sitting on his knee and smiled. Usually Stuart would eye him with suspicion for clinging onto his tartan holdall so tightly but when Stuarts stare dropped to the bag he knew that there was no way this man would be a suicide bomber. Two big brown eyes and a mop of fluffy brown hair with a puddle of white on its’ nose, emerged from the open zipper. The Shih Tzu had the cutest face he had ever seen, its eyes darting rapidly back and forth between the passengers with bewilderment. Much to the amusement of other people sitting in close proximity. The dog never moved or made a sound and Stuart wondered what would happen if the dog jumped out and made a run for it. That bought a smile to his face. He found it quite amusing that had the dog been a huge Great Dane or a German Shepard would people have been quite so accepting of the dog. He doubted it.
Opposite sat a lady, not your normal early morning traveller, she was definitely not a commuter and it was unlikely that she was a sightseer either. He wasn’t quite sure where she sat in society. Stuart found the whole summing someone up in just a moments glance quite challenging but intriguing. The fact that you could make an assumption about someone within a few seconds of seeing them was quite shocking. His attention was drawn back to the woman. He had also ruled out suicide bomber for her as she was not your stereotypical rucksack wielding male and although there was something not quite right about the woman, he felt it was more domestic than sinister. Her appearance was odd to say the least, her white leggings showed every bulge in her fatty thighs, the holey Reeboks looked like they had seen better days and she wore a knitted cardigan that reminded him of his Grans. Stuart wondered if she had a full-length mirror in the hall to look in before she left the house, but then he assumed that even with the mirror it would probably be used as a coat stand or somewhere for the kids to hang their school bags. Another assumption — he had factored kids into the equation, but why? There was no sign of any kids, the only thing that drew him to that conclusion was the plain gold band on her left hand, but then that didn’t mean she had kids. The woman looked up, her eyes tired with smudged eye liner barely hanging onto her lower lids, the only sign that she wore makeup. Stuart’s eyes quickly darted to the tube map hanging above her head and he started to study the Central line map intently, probably too intently to actually be looking at it. Problem was now he felt awkward and unable to lower his gaze in case she caught him looking.
He averted his eyes away from the lady and settled almost pleasingly on a group of Chinese girls that were chatting away in Chinese, totally oblivious to what was going on around them. Just then the train came to a halt at Oxford Circus and the girls quickly gathered their belongings and still talking as if something so exciting was happening left the train leaving a quietness that hung in the air. The train had all of a sudden spat out at least half its trainer clad commuters and as the train sped on towards Bond Street Stuart relaxed his tense body, moulding it with the seat.
That was until he spotted the man sitting hunched up in the corner, previously obscured from view by the Chinese girls. Clutching a rucksack, he looked pensive, beads of sweat forming on his brow, his eyes narrowing as he stared down at the floor. This was it. Stuart began to sweat, his palms started to feel clammy under the clench of his own tight grip, his back stiffened in his once relaxed position, his time was up he just knew it. As Bond Street approached, he got up and headed for the other end of the carriage, standing pensively at the tightly closed doors, wiling them to open. This was not his stop but he would rather get off now than never get off. Stuart could feel the sweat building up on his neck as he focused on the non-illuminated button willing it to turn yellow. As soon as it did, he smashed his hand on the button and forced the failing doors open with both hands. Prising himself between the doors he almost fell onto the platform.
“Tenth person dies of Corona Virus Covid-19 during busy morning commute”, Stuart raised the latest copy of the Evening Standard on his way home to read on, “Commuters on the Central Line this morning was delayed when a man was pronounced dead at the Lancaster Gate station. He is the tenth person to die from this deadly disease which originated from China. Paramedics were called but the man could not be revived. Anyone who came into contact with this person needs to get themselves tested.”
A bead of sweat formed on Stuarts forehead for the second time that day but this one could have deadly consequences.