Sunday, 4 September 2016

Day One: The Sadness of Strangers

On the S-Bahn it's hot and sticky. Pockets of people in their own worlds standing, sitting, swaying together but never quite touching. Observed and observing but it's passive. On the train car, one of many, connected like cocktail weenies they are all travelling in the same direction at least for the duration between stops.

A group of young, not quite men, casually dressed, backpacks held loosely, chatter in the shorthand of the day, talking about work and making plans. They are three of a foursome but the woman seated in the same quartet of chairs does not belong. The create a triangle out of a square. Ignored and unseen, she feigns boredom, but really she listens to their carelessly loud conversation, their easy friendship and knows a strange sort of envy. Their days lie before them wrapped up in suits for a too hot office, customer comments which mean well but annoy, trips to the big electronics fair and after work plans. What world will they leave behind for their children the woman wonders as they all laugh at a joke which only they understand.

This train goes back and forth, with an exchange of life at every station. Taking people through their own time lines, to and from work, home, love, sorrow. Everyone is a story waiting to be shared yet they hold their silence because strangers seldom share their lives within the ordinary movement of the day. Eyes dart carefully, not lingering too long, not peering too hard. Everyone tries their best to be unobtrusive, non invasive, tucked away behind a newspaper or smart phone. Their hands busy with, holding, texting or scrolling, the silent words of a billion worlds locked away on an illuminated screen or wall of paper, a shield which keeps everyone apart. This is my space, it says, do not enter, do not break through, do not smile or stare. No contact necessary. The world made lonely by invisible walls.

When the train reaches its last stop everyone moves in unison to the doors which slide open too slowly. It is an older train and it lets its passengers leave reluctantly. The fresh air that greets each person is a gift to be enjoyed for a tiny fraction of time before momentum urges them forward to continue to where ever they are going next. Scattered wide leaving little of themselves behind. The train then sits idle, full of the ghost scents of passengers past, waiting until it is time to begin gathering potential stories again.

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