Friday, August 20, 2004

Dali Faces on the Tube

A friend reckons I am one of the scary people on the Tube. I like to watch people, to try and plumb the depth of their character by observing the minute of their faces and bodies as they wait in the introverted suspended animation that the Tube requires of you. This friend tells me that when I watch people I get an intense look on my face that reminds her of a Dali painting that she once saw. When she imitates my look, she looks crazy, and I hope she is exaggerating because I do not want to make my fascinating subjects uncomfortable as they entertain me on my journey through the bowels of London, swerving around plague pits and hurtling past deserted stations.

To Her Door

One of the most haunting passengers of my travels got on at Morden with me with a large polystyrene box, carefully taped, something that you would transport a fragile object in. He sat in the corner of the carriage, his entire being concentrated completely on the box in his lap. The importance of this container was the first thing that drew my eye to him; it radiated off him as if he were on the verge of violent movement if it were disturbed.

I watched him almost visibly invest all his current presence into the box, a man with incredibly rough workman’s hands, clothes and sneakers that were spotlessly clean, yet heavily stained with the kind of dirty that speaks of hard labour and little need to have a set of nice clothes. I was incredibly drawn to the stroking movement of his callused hands, soothing and comforting the box in his lap. My stop was coming up and I was poised to do the unthinkable, approach a stranger on the Tube to ask him what was in his box.

I didn’t, perhaps because I have been in London long enough to know that speaking on the Tube is frowned upon, probably because I had my own thoughts on the contents of his lovingly nursed box. It was piece of art, a sculpture perhaps, the purest expression of his reticent artistic soul, carefully freed from the confines and expectations of the brickyard and the pub.

I would like to think he was taking it to a quiet doorstep in far north London, to a wife that had left because she wasn’t sure she still loved him, and a child that missed him terribly. Perhaps he had found that crafting the forms of his loved ones had cleared his head and directed his heart, and he had a powerful symbol of love to give to those for whom he cared most.

Whatever the contents of that box, I hope his feelings were rewarded, because they are still with me.