The novelty will soon wear off, I dare say. But for now I stand, hungry for input, on my daily commute. So many glimpses into so many lives, if you don’t keep your eyes in a book or on your tiny screen.
I joined the train fairly early in the morning. I could see two boys, maybe 4 and 6, identically dressed in skinny black jeans, green silky baseball jackets and black leather baseball caps with appliqued gold motifs. They sat opposite one another in subdued silence until at one point the smaller one got up from his seat and I heard the strident tones, in a strong African accent, of what I presumed was their mother, hidden from me by people standing between us. She was shouting at him, telling him off for having given up his seat. He looked crestfallen. He tried to hug her legs but was brushed off. His seat was now taken by another commuter. He could easily have shared with his brother, they were both so small, but he preferred to stand by his mother’s legs. It became clear that the neatly dressed girl a few seats along was their big sister. The little boy was sent to her to get some sort of snack which was produced from the rather adult bag this ten-year-old had slung across her body. Then back to his mother’s legs to hover, not quite daring to cling, his head hanging, the uneaten snack in his hand. All I could see of the mother was her lower legs. She wore open-toed sandals with enormously high heels, and her toenails were mesmerising: long, long, rectangles, with sharp corners, the protruding centimetre or so painted white. She continued to upbraid her small son Roly in a loud voice. The rest of the carriage was silent.
With the movement of people in and out at various stations, I finally had a good view of the woman. She had false eyelashes of the sort worn by drag artists, thick and black and curling up to touch her forehead, and false nails like those on her toes, only longer, so that I wondered at her dexterity in holding the various items she had in her hands. There was a mirror on a stand, a palette of creamy powder and a long handled brush. I watched her paint her face with a brown colour several shades lighter than her skin. Big, thick brushstrokes over her forehead, cheeks and nose. She painted her eyelids around the huge black eyelashes, the train jolting from side to side. Other travellers mostly ignored her, some pointedly gazing at their shoes. One or two nudged and pointed and whispered. She continued with her maquillage unabashed, chastising her son in strident tones while he never made a sound. ‘Sit still, Roly!’ And then: ‘Rolex, I’m talking to you!’
Yesterday evening I was going into town with my son to meet some friends for dinner, and I was telling him about it when I suddenly stopped, conscious that the two women opposite were leaning forward to listen. ‘Sorry!’ they cried, when I looked at them. The four of us chatted and laughed for the next half hour before we went our separate ways.
I love London.