The Way Home
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In the busy station, they walk down the few steps and buy their tickets. Back and forth people move; the Saturday morning shoppers, elderly ladies with trolleys, women with pushchairs, young men with the ear-plugs of Walkmen around their throats. The ticket barriers suck the tickets, plastic doors swing open, the tickets are spat out. Open and shut go the doors, the escalators rattle and groan, their steps bristle and sweep down like the back of a Stegosaurus.

On the escalator, Nadia thinks that once you put your first foot to go down, you cannot change your mind. It is difficult to walk up again, there is someone standing on every step, there would be people running down towards you. Even if it was empty, you would look silly trying anyway. She used to do that when she was young, play on the escalators in department stores, deliberately struggle against their flow. Run quickly down the Up escalator, pant up the Down until someone told her off and brought the game to an end. Now she looks at the emergency Stop box, its red wrinkled paper uninviting to touch. Pressing the box would bring this giant, rattling machine to a standstill. It would be a dramatic moment, people would perhaps fall from the jolt, hurt themselves.

She has never seen this happen. Now as she and Tracy stand in a single file to the right while others walk quickly past them, she can understand the reluctance that prevents the red box from being pressed. There is a fear of stopping a process that has already been set in motion.

They are half way down when a rushing man steps on Tracy's foot. His briefcase brushes against her knees. She begins to cry and the escalator keeps on descending, down everyone goes, under the ground. For Tracy the ads on the side wall merge together in a blur of tears. Musicals, the latest Michael Jackson album, Big Mac. Only when they reach the bottom does Nadia notice.

What's wrong?


Why are you crying?

I don't know.

People walk past them. The sound of footsteps is like an endless march, the indefatigable continuity of life. Nadia and Tracy are the only ones standing at the bottom, where no one needs to stand. There is not even a busker today filling the station with the eerie sound of his voice. People are making a choice now; left Northward, right Southwards.

Nadia and Tracy should go right, follow the woman with the beads in her hair South, follow the man with the tweed jacket holding his son's hand, the old woman with mauve hair. Instead they stand and Tracy rummages automatically in her bag, remembers the smoking ban and gives up. Leans on the wall, wipes her tears with the back of her hand.

Nadia is conscious of all the sounds around her, all the bustle of the station. Tracy is crying and Nadia is thinking we must have missed a train by now.

Are you in pain? Should we go back?

No just cramps, like period pains. They told me I would get them.

Pity for Tracy is superseded by illumination. Nadia can see the silver drop earring nestle in Tracy's earlobe, entwined by a single stray hair. She can see Tracy's eyebrow ruffled, the little hairs disturbed, askew. Nadia can see Tracy's womb. Bewildered, its mouth agape in a round full O. It murmurs and drones reproach. Sighs, pulses its defeat, retreats. Grudgingly contracts, adjusts. Sheds, expels, but there is little left to shed.

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